By MOSES CHIMFWEMBE –
THE Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) has warned governments around the globe and international institutions to take bold steps to manage the mounting threat of deadly disease outbreaks.
This is according to a report released last week by the GPMB which is an international group of experts convened by the World Bank and World Health organisation (WHO).
The report, which also outlines concrete actions to prepare the world for health emergencies, indicates that despite the increasing risk of widespread epidemics, the world remains unprepared.
For instance, Zambia has had challenges with respect to its preparedness and control of emerging and known epidemics, such as cholera, typhoid, HINI (influenza A virus subtype H1N1), avian influenza and measles.
Zambia’s neighbour, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been plagued with the deadly Ebola virus that has so far claimed over 2,000 lives according to the latest figures released by the government.
However, the experts observed that investing in preparedness before a crisis strikes saves lives and money but warned that epidemic-prone diseases like Ebola, influenza and SARS are increasingly difficult to manage in the face of prolonged conflict, fragile states, and forced migration.
“For too long, world leaders’ approaches to health emergencies have been characterized by a cycle of panic and neglect,
“It is high time for urgent and sustained action. This must include increased funding at the community, national and international levels to prevent the spread of outbreaks,” said Gro Harlem Brundtland, co-chair of the GPMB.
He said it also requires leaders to take proactive steps to strengthen preparedness coordination mechanisms across governments and society to respond quickly to an emergency.
The report emphasised that although governments and international institutions have taken steps to increase preparedness for outbreaks since the deadly Ebola crisis in West Africa five years ago, current preparedness efforts are insufficient.
Further, the report states that the current Ebola outbreak in the DRC demonstrates how the lack of trust between communities and authorities can undermine the response during a health emergency.
GPMB co-chairperson Elhadj As Sy, who is the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the trust between communities and the institutions that serve them is at the core of an emergency response.
“Community engagement and trust cannot be an afterthought, it has to be earned,” he said.
He observed that leaders and public health authorities must work as partners with communities to build that trust.
“We can’t just show up once a health crisis hits. We need to be there before, during and after,” he said.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “As leaders of nations, communities and international agencies, we must take responsibility for emergency preparedness, and heed the lessons these outbreaks are teaching us.
“We have to ‘fix the roof before the rain comes,” he said.
The report has noted some progress on scaling up in-country preparedness and that as of July 2019, 59 countries developed a National Action Plan for Health Security, yet, none have been fully financed.
Therefore, the experts recommended that in order to be fully prepared, all countries must create a fully costed and financed action plan, with international funders stepping in to close gaps for the poorest and most vulnerable countries.
“Poverty and fragility exacerbate outbreaks of infectious disease and help create the conditions for pandemics to take hold.
“Investing in stronger institutions and health systems will promote resilience, economic stability and global health security,” said Axel van Trotsenburg, Acting CEO of the World Bank.
The GPMB urged leaders to follow through on seven urgent actions to ensure the world was better prepared for the next health emergency.
It calls on heads of state and governments to increase funding for preparedness and research into new technologies, strengthen response systems across sectors and follow through on international commitments.
At the international level, the experts are calling on intergovernmental organisations, donors and multilateral institutions to build preparedness into funding mechanisms, strengthen coordination and rapid communication systems, and monitor progress continually.