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Despite significant advances in understanding how infectious diseases spread – and recent scares such as the outbreaks of SARS, H1N1 (swine flu) and Ebola – the world is still unprepared for the next major epidemic. But a new global campaign launched today is designed to address this threat, by calling for a comprehensive global response to prevent dangerous disease outbreaks from becoming full-blown epidemics.
The No More Epidemics campaign is led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), a nonprofit global leader in health systems strengthening, together with the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), International Medical Corps (IMC), and Save the Children.
Over the last 100 years, at least half a billion people have died in epidemics of infectious diseases. While modern medicine has made great progress in eradicating certain threats such as smallpox, most of the greatest killers - flu, plague, tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS, cholera, and Ebola - are still with us today.
“Infectious diseases are unlike any other threat, as soon as they enter the human population, we are all at risk. Unfortunately, the disease surveillance and health systems coverage we have at the moment is unequally distributed-- poor countries are lagging way behind, ” says Dr. Frank Smith, campaign director of No More Epidemics.
The increased risk is exacerbated by the rising population, increasing urbanization (54 percent live in cities) and large global population movements. These trends, that have spread ideas and innovations around the globe, are also spreading diseases at a rapid rate, as seen in the SARS outbreak in 2003.
Global lack of preparedness for another major epidemic is due in part to health system weaknesses and the lack of universal health coverage, according to the Campaign, which launched a report today titled "No More Epidemics: A Call to Action."
“A severe and prolonged global pandemic could kill 180 to 360 million people and hit global GDP by as much as 5 to 10 percent in the first year,” says Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, president and CEO of MSH. “Governments, rich and poor, need to do more to ensure better disease surveillance and epidemic preparedness, and strong health systems are in place to protect the whole of humanity. The scale of the threat we face is such that we can no longer hide behind borders.”
The International Health Regulations were adopted in 2005 by 196 countries and designed to ensure governments were better prepared for the threat of an epidemic and communicating potential threats to the World Health Organization. However, the IHR have relied on the will of governments to be implemented and, unfortunately, this will has been lacking.
“After SARS, world leaders strengthened the International Health Regulations to ensure all nations were better protected from diseases, but countries have not implemented these commitments, “ says Smith. “Since then we have had bird flu, swine flu, and Ebola. Each time the UN comes up with a report to figure out why these epidemics happened, they come to the same conclusion that not enough was done on disease surveillance, epidemic preparedness, and strengthening health systems. It’s time to act and implement the learning from past epidemics, or many of us may not be here to read the next report.”
The greatest threat remains pandemic influenza, whose ability for continual mutation makes it the leading candidate for a devastating global pandemic of the sort seen in the 1918 Spanish flu.
“Containing outbreaks and preventing epidemics requires investing in people, fostering community recovery, training local health care workers, and helping strengthen and rebuild health care systems,” says Nancy A. Aossey, president and CEO of International Medical Corps.
No More Epidemics calls on governments and multilateral institutions to increase their epidemic prevention and preparedness capabilities and invest in stronger health systems at the country level.
There is broad agreement that the Ebola crisis was not quickly contained, reversed, or mitigated because national health systems in countries with outbreaks were under-resourced, under-staffed, and poorly equipped. In 2012, for example, the Liberian government spent $20 per person per year on health, Sierra Leone spent $16 and Guinea spent $9 -- far below the recommended minimum of $86 to provide the minimum package of essential health services.
The Call to Action report the campaign released today:
• Calls on the World Health Organization (WHO), as part of its ongoing reform, to enhance its internal capacity to coordinate timely response to public health events of international concern and other health emergencies.
• Asks WHO member states to allocate at least 15 percent of their national budgets to health in compliance with the 2001 Abuja Declaration
• Seeks full compliance from WHO member states with the International Health Regulations (IHR). WHO member states should also ensure that WHO has unrestricted funds to monitor implementation of the IHR.
• Calls on the World Bank Group to accelerate establishment of the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility and mechanisms for how to access the funds.
• Asks the business community to share insights and resources with governments to safeguard the health of their workforce as well as communities at large.
• Calls for civil society organizations to more actively advocate for IHR compliance in countries where they work – especially in countries with low to moderate incomes.
No More Epidemics is an international campaign to prevent future epidemics of emerging infectious diseases. The campaign brings together nongovernmental organizations, top experts in health systems and humanitarian relief, community organizations, academic institutions, epidemiologists and scientists, and the most innovative companies and philanthropies to work with national governments and international agencies on ensuring we are all better prepared from epidemics. Steering Committee members include Management Sciences for Health (MSH), African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), Save the Children, and International Medical Corps (IMC).
Management Sciences for Health (MSH) works with health leaders throughout the world on global health’s biggest challenges, with a focus on HIV & AIDS, TB, malaria, chronic diseases, family planning, and maternal and child health. Together with our partners, we work toward a shared vision of universal health coverage-accessible, affordable, appropriate health services for all-through stronger health systems.
African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) is a network of public health training institutions in Africa that seeks to strengthen manpower to enhance health systems on the continent. AFENET is a not-for-profit organization which works closely with Ministries of Health in member countries to develop sustainable programs and capacity to strengthen field epidemiology and ensure healthier lives for Africans.
A global first responder, International Medical Corps' mission since its inception over 30 years ago, has been consistent: relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance. International Medical Corps has been treating Ebola patients in West Africa since its first Ebola Treatment Unit in Bong County, Liberia, opened on September 15, 2014. In total, the organization has more than 1,550 staff working on the ground in West Africa for the Ebola response. A recognized expert on building local capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters, International Medical Corps has partnered with USAID on large-scale preparedness efforts, including PREPARE, a three-year project to strengthen the human capacity of countries to identify and respond to outbreaks in a timely and sustainable manner.
Save the Children is the world's leading independent organization for children. We work in around 120 countries. We save children's lives; we fight for their rights; we help them fulfil their potential. We work to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives. Across all of our work, we pursue several core values: accountability, ambition, collaboration, creativity and integrity.