Archive for junio 2021

For once, an international body has recognized that something has to be done to avoid another COVID-19 disaster. The European Commission is promoting the design and launching of a new agency: the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). The HERA will be tasked with the risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication of future health emergencies.

Five pillars constitute the core of HERA:

  1. Supporting technological innovation.
  2. Fostering coordination among EU and non-EU countries as well as with related international organizations.
  3. Establishing monitoring, preparedness, and response mechanisms.
  4. Instituting a robust EU and WHO surveillance system.
  5. Building specific competence for health and non-health personnel.

All five pillars, together with the promotion of research and innovation for a preparedness agenda and enhancing partnerships with non-EU countries, should put the EU and, by extension, the rest of the world in a better situation than the one it was in a year ago.

We can bet that, if in a few years’ time, no new pandemic has developed, many people will start pointing out how the EU is a machine that wastes money on useless agencies whose only objective is to maintain the good life of many eurocrats. That will be good for two reasons. First, it will mean that we have been spared a new devastating pandemic; second it will probably mean that the mechanisms designed by HERA have worked and we have avoided a new pandemic.

Let’s hope that HERA will have to be faced only with the above kind of criticism, and that its design is as good as we all hope for. Another devastating pandemic like COVID-19 will surely cripple the fabric of the world more than the recent financial and health crises.

Note: this post has been inspired by the paper by Villa, S et al. HERA: a new era for health emergency preparedness in Europe? The Lancet. Published Online May 17, 2021 https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01107-7

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There is a lot of talk about how to deal with the next pandemic. The consensus is that there is going to be a next pandemic; we do not know when, but we do know there is going to be one. So, are we ready for it?

If we believe the panellists on a recent webinar by The Economist, the answer is an unqualified no. Of all the possible explanations on why we are in such a situation of unpreparedness I subscribe that of Dr. John Nkengasong (Director of African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention): There is a deficit of “trust capital”.

The deficit exists among governments, and between governments and their citizens. Let’s start with lack of trust among governments. No one claims that a pandemic is not a world health problem. But if it is a global problem, why are we still ignoring the obvious fact that if we do not collaborate globally we are not going to solve “our” problem? A pandemic is not going to disappear until it has been eradicated from the most remote country. Trusting other governments means that part of our resources should be directed to other countries so that we can advance in unison.

As for the second aspect, the lack of trust between a government and its citizens, there are plenty of examples. Do we need to be reminded how some people stormed the USA Congress? What about those who refuse to be vaccinated because they believe in weird conspiracy theories? This aspect of lack of trust is as dangerous as the previous. Why? Because citizens are the first responders in a pandemic.

If we want to manage the next pandemic more efficiently, we need to involve first responders. A paper by Ying Yang et al[1] points out that “Epidemics start and end in communities, where citizens are often the first to observe changes in the environment and in animal health, and the first to be exposed to new or re-emerging pathogens”. We should follow the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030 so as “… to promote a culture of disaster prevention, resilience and responsible citizenship, generate understanding of disaster risk …”. We should invest in educating citizens so that they can identify changes that foreshadow a possible pandemic. They are the cornerstone of a more efficient future preparation and response to the next pandemic.

[1] Ying Yang Chan E, Gobat N, Dubois C, Bedson J, Rangel de Almeida J. Bottom-up citizen engagement for health emergency and disaster risk management: directions since COVID-19. The Lancet Published Online June 4, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01233-2

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