The WHO chief recently warned the world to prepare for the possibility of an outbreak of a deadly disease that could be even more serious than the coronavirus. To ensure we are well prepared, WHO has introduced a global monitoring network to watch for potential threats.
During his speech at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the end of COVID-19 as a global health emergency does not mean the threat to global health is over.
“The threat of another emerging variant causing new waves of illness and death persists”, he said at the annual decision-making meeting of the 194 WHO member states. “And the threat persists that another pathogen with even deadlier potential will emerge.”.
How to detect the threat of a lethal disease
On Saturday (May 20), the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the International Pathogen Surveillance Network (IPSN) during the 76th WHA meeting. This network will help detect and respond to new diseases using genomic technology.
By examining the genetic information of viruses, bacteria, etc., scientists can gain a clearer understanding of how diseases spread and develop. This can be very useful for creating effective treatments and vaccines, as well as tracking your progress. Additionally, they can identify highly infectious or deadly viral strains.
Tedros stated at the launch of the network that he intended to make genomic sequencing and pathogen analysis accessible to all countries as part of their public health system.
WHO Epidemic and Pandemic Intelligence Center
The WHO Center for Intelligence on Epidemics and Pandemics will be the host of the IPSN Secretariat, which will include experts in genomics and data analysis from diverse fields, such as governments, charitable organizations, multilateral organizations, civil society groups, universities and private companies.
Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which contributed to IPSN funding, said that international collaboration on genomic surveillance of microorganisms was essential in the fight against COVID-19.
“IPSN builds on this experience by creating a robust platform for partners across industries and borders to share knowledge, tools and practices to ensure pandemic prevention and response are innovative and robust into the future.”, he detailed.
Screen for pathogens with the potential for deadly diseases and pandemics
According to Victoria Fan, senior fellow for global health at the Center for Global Development, a think tank, high-quality data would be immensely helpful in tracking pathogens with pandemic potential and enabling rapid response from other nations.
“Ensuring timely, accurate and quality data will remain the main challenge as countries reporting (a disease outbreak) face negative sanctions”, further emphasized on the situation of South Africa since they faced worldwide travel restrictions due to the detection of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in late 2021.
“It can be helpful to increase positive incentives to report, such as paying countries to report, as well as reducing negative incentives, such as trade or travel restrictions imposed by other countries.’ he added.
Covid-19 is no longer a lethal disease of international importance
Earlier this month, the WHO announced that Covid-19 was no longer classified as a public health emergency of international concern. This statement indicated that the virus is now more widespread. “an established and ongoing health problem”.
The recent downward trend in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations was reflected in the decision, but there is potential to affect developing countries’ access to resources and health spending priorities.
At the next WHA, which ends May 30, several initiatives will be deliberated to improve WHO’s response to health crises, such as the creation of an international council of influential leaders for global health emergencies.
“We can’t kick this can down the roadTedros said in his speech. “When the next pandemic arrives, and it will, we must be prepared to respond decisively, collectively and equitably.’ he added.
Sustainable Development and Health Goal
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, the progress made so far is insufficient to meet the 2030 targets.
Despite a significant increase in the number of people with access to health coverage, less than half of the world’s population will be covered by 2030 if current rates continue. Another 477 million people have enjoyed universal health coverage since 2018. This shows the urgency of the situation and shows that the pace of progress must double to ensure health coverage for all by 2030.
Located at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, the World Health Assembly is scheduled to review the successes and challenges of the World Health Organization over the past year.
At the meeting, a budget for the next two years will be allocated and any general issues related to funding will be discussed.
This article was produced by the Global Office of SciDev.Net.