"The world is extremely poorly prepared for future pandemics": What it says in the latest WHO and World Bank report

An outbreak of unknown origin, 36 hours, 80 million deaths. Panic, instability, the army in the streets, the overflowing hospitals, the stock markets around the world plummeting. And no, it is not the plot of a catastrophe movie.

It is a "completely plausible" scenario according to the annual report of the Global Readiness Monitoring Board, 15 independent experts convened by the World Bank and the World Health Organization to assess the real risk of a global pandemic.

"Plausible" because the efforts of governments to prepare for such an event are, to put it mildly and moderately, "extremely insufficient." But realistically, how close is the end of the world?

"Panic and neglect"

The Board, which was launched after the first Ebola crisis, publishes its first report with clear conclusions: there are increasing "serious risks" of global epidemics. And this is so, not because new diseases appear, but because the diseases that we already know (Ebola, the flu or severe acute respiratory syndrome) are increasingly difficult to manage.

Why? Fundamentally due to the increase in armed conflicts, fragile states and the increase in international mobility. But also due to climate change, the increasingly powerful urbanization of the world and the lack of the slightest health conditions in many neighborhoods of the world's megacities.

Given this, the Board has raised the tone: "For too long, world leaders' approaches to health emergencies have been characterized by a cycle of panic and neglect," said Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and co-chair of the group of experts.

Invest in trust

Joshua Earle

This, being precise, is not precise. In recent years, governments and international institutions have taken measures to improve mechanisms, tactics and strategies in the face of crises of this type. As of July 2019, there were already 59 countries that had developed action plans for such epidemics. However, they are right that, since the Avian Flu crisis, the lack of public confidence in institutions has grown in many countries.

This is something that has undoubtedly shown its consequences in the differences between the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the outbreak in Uganda. The response in the DRC has been much more ineffective than Uganda's, and it is precisely because "trust between the communities and the institutions that serve them is at the core of an emergency response, but it is almost impossible to generate trust in the midst of a crisis".

However, we must be able to understand this wake-up call in context. In the context of a world that, as we have seen in the recent Gotas Frías, has a hard time preparing for things that it knows for sure are coming. In other words, we must prepare ourselves more, but it is useless to fall into unwarranted alarm.

Image | Kelsey Knight, Mikael Seegen

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