Coronavirus warning: COVID-19 won’t be the last as fears ‘future outbreaks inevitable’

Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre today put the total number of COVID-19 cases worldwide at more than 2.6million, with more than 180,000 deaths. Jessica Bell, a senior program officer with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which teamed up with JHU last year to produce the Global Health Security Index (GHSI), assessing the preparedness of 195 countries to deal with public health threats, said the unfolding crisis highlighted the vulnerability of all nations – as well as the importance of investing in robust health systems. She told “I think there is still much to learn about this novel coronavirus, specifically its transmissibility, lethality, and treatment.

There will inevitably be future outbreaks of infectious diseases and the goal should be to learn from this outbreak

Jessica Bell

“There will inevitably be future outbreaks of infectious diseases and the goal should be to learn from this outbreak and institute greater capabilities around health security preparedness so that we’re better able to respond to a future outbreak.

“It’ll be important for our political leadership to make health security a long-term preparedness priority to ensure a local as well as global response.”

The GHSI, which was activated in February 2019, ranks each country’s ability to cope against a wide range of different criteria, with the United States achieving a score of 83.5 out of 100, meaning it was regarded as the best prepared nation on Earth.

Despite this, the US currently has more cases (more than 830,000) and deaths (more than 46,000) than anywhere else.

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Ms Bell said: “Amid the threat posed by COVID-19 the GHS Index has been used repeatedly as a reference for global preparedness during the pandemic.

“This is a key goal of the GHS Index, and the COVID-19 pandemic has become a proof point for its main finding: National health security is fundamentally weak around the world.

“No country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics, and every country has important gaps to address.

“With that finding, I do think we’re seeing these weaknesses come to light; however, it’s still surprising the magnitude of this outbreak, regardless of score.”

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She also voiced concern about the potential impact the coronavirus was likely to have on less developed countries further down the line.

She explained: “The health capacity of low and middle-income countries is certainly a concern, especially when taking into consideration the need for a strong healthcare system, disease surveillance, and emergency response capabilities.

“The weaknesses in capacity in these countries will require support through the global response as well as regional support.

“These environments, which can often include more of informal economies and settlements, are experiencing challenges in instituting measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19, not to mention the ability to access supplies and institute and sustain a strong healthcare system.”

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Nevertheless, Ms Bell stressed more money was no guarantee of better preparation.

She said: “Unfortunately, weaknesses extend across income levels.

“The GHS Index found that among the 60 high-income countries, the average GHS Index score is 51.9 out of 100.

“In addition, 116 high and middle-income countries do not score above 50 out of 100.”

Ms Bell also took the opportunity to push about against suggestions by numerous politicians, not least US President Trump, that the illness had come out of nowhere, pointing to the numerous warnings issued in recent years about the danger posed by zoonotic illnesses.

She said: “I think the health security community has been repeatedly saying for years not ‘if,’ but ‘when’ a large scale epidemic or pandemic will occur.

“There has historically been a cycle around larger outbreaks where there’s panic around the outbreak – where additional funding and resources are brought to bare – followed by a longer period of complacency – where those resources essentially dry up and the priority of outbreak preparedness becomes less so.

“We’re seeing a call to action around funding a rapid response to the current COVID-19 outbreak.

“What will be important is not only providing resources to address the challenges resulting from this outbreak, but to also look to the future towards longer-term preparedness.

“Given the current and project scale of this outbreak, I think we can expect to see greater priority given to outbreak preparedness, especially as it relates to disease surveillance, testing capabilities, and supply chain strength.”

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