Sunday, November 05, 2017 by Russel Davis
A recently concluded simulation held at the World Bank’s annual meeting has revealed that the world remains unprepared for another wave of an inevitable pandemic. As part of the simulation, ministers from 12 countries as well as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have discussed the global approach to a realistic scenario involving a hypothetical pandemic crossing borders.
The simulation involves a hypothetical Instagram post about a cruise ship worker contracting a deadly disease. The ministers are then instructed to react to the Instagram post by coordinating with other key figures in other departments and countries. The ministers have also been tasked to make public service announcements in order to protect the public and mitigate the threat. According to the experts, the simulation serves as an attempt to explain why the global response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak had been subpar. The simulation also aims to identify the loop holes in pandemic preparation before another outbreak sets in, the scientists add.
The results have revealed that government agencies have limited knowledge of non-traditional communication methods such as social media and WhatsApp to speed up information dissemination. Likewise, government agencies appeared to have stuck to sporadic updates rather than go for constant, up-to-the-minute updates regardless of the time of day. The findings have also shown that information is being stymied across nations due to fears of losing tourism value. (Related: A global pandemic has a 50 percent chance of wiping out human civilization, reveals online odds firm.)
“We’re frankly not ready for a medium-sized one. The threat is still out there. We still are not ready for the big one. Government officials need to be more in sync with [information from unofficial channels] and adjust to that. I think the exercise clearly flagged that, and the ministers and others really focused on that,” Ron Klain, the United States Ebola czar during the pandemic, has stated in a Washington Post report.
Tim Evans, senior director for health, nutrition and population at the World Bank, agreed with Klain but noted that the bank is currently exploring ways to prepare more systematically to face a probable pandemic in the future.
Government agencies have been putting up large-scale initiatives in order to predict the next big pandemic. For instance, researchers behind the PREDICT project have been creating catalogs of different viruses that may potentially cause an outbreak in the future. The initiative, which received $100 million in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, has so far identified 1,000 new viruses. Likewise, the Global Virome Project aims to identify and sequence nearly all the viruses in birds and mammals that may be transmitted to humans. The initiative was proposed last year, and may cost up to $3.4 billion.
However, other experts are more skeptical of the initiatives, stating that predicting a future pandemic might be too tall an order.
“Within each of these [virus] categories, there are so many variables that could influence disease emergence. It’s hard enough to model the effect of any one, and these factors likely interact in ways that we can’t possibly understand just by looking at each of them discreetly…If we can’t even get routine surveillance working in hot-spot settings, we have no chance of getting something even more complex, like prediction, in place,” says Jennifer Gardy from the University of British Columbia.
“Can we predict pandemics? The answer right now is no. But just because something is hard to predict does not mean we cannot quantify its risk in a useful, actionable way — a logic that the insurance industry profits from,” Barbara Han, from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, told The Atlantic online.