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How to prepare for the next pandemic

One day less

But, perhaps, the only thing we should be clear about is that today there is one day less for the next pandemic.

The UN General Assembly does seem to have assumed it this time. Thus, has established the International Day of Preparedness for Epidemics. A commemoration that was held – for the first time! – on December 27, 2020. Its purpose is to highlight the importance of preventing epidemics and preparing and collaborating to try to deal with them in advance.

The truth is that this COVID-19 has caught us, and whoever says otherwise is wrong. Andreu Segura reminds us that, although it was logical and plausible to assume that it would be little more than the flu, this assumption was incorrect. But those who initially denounced that it would be a catastrophe did so only on the basis of intuition or speculation.

What does 7-1-7 mean

For all this, preparation for epidemics and pandemics is becoming increasingly important, although it has always been.

An article was recently published that reminds us that how quickly a system detects and effectively responds to a threat is the optimal measure of performance. The authors of this article state that “Building enthusiasm and support for a public health program is easier if you have a performance metric that is simple, easy to remember, and catalyzes progress on the issue.”. Therefore, they suggest a new global goal of 7-1-7 for epidemic preparedness.

That means that each suspected outbreak can be identified within 7 days of its onset, public health authorities are informed with the initiation of the investigation and response efforts within 1 day, and responded effectively within the next 7 days.

One of the interesting aspects of this approach is that it encompasses many of the capabilities needed to deal with an epidemic. Namely:

Appropriate access to medical care and treatment. Existence of an adequate number of trained health professionals who can detect suspicious outbreaks. Laboratories equipped with the ability to diagnose emerging pathogens. Information systems connected in real time from the clinic and laboratory to public health.

Ultimately, it is about improving surveillance, notification, investigation and response systems. But other aspects cannot be forgotten either. As it will be essential that there is a supply of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment. Not to mention that effective communication with the community and their participation and collaboration in the measures to be adopted will be equally necessary.

Assessment and preparation

This is not, of course, the only possible approach to a matter that is, almost by definition, complex and with many derivatives. Proof of this are the two letters published by a group of Spanish health scientists in The Lancet in which the evaluation of the Spanish response to the coronavirus pandemic was requested.

Clearly, in order to be well prepared, the first thing to do is assess what has been done and how it has been done. Only in this way can we proceed to the establishment of a guide to face an epidemic or a pandemic. Only in this way is it possible to contemplate that there are established, equipped, and prepared health structures with sufficient personnel, adequately trained, with a population vision, rather than exclusively clinical or laboratory. And that, in addition, fundamental aspects are taken into account for the entire population: social, including social inequalities in health, so present in this pandemic, and also economic ones.

All this has to be contemplated in the Public Health and Public Health Surveillance Strategies that are currently being developed in Spain.

Without forgetting, of course, that those who have to make the decisions, because they have been chosen to do so, cannot stoke, rather than relax, the political tensions that a health crisis also provokes. The role of these decision-makers is key to facilitate the response and strengthen the technical work. And also to do everything possible so that the precise legal tools that facilitate the execution of non-pharmacological measures can be used. Measures how effective they have been when applied correctly.

Inevitable

It is difficult to know when, how and from what the next pandemic will be. But being prepared for a diverse spectrum of situations can help you cope. What we can be sure of is the inevitability of the threat of a pandemic.

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