The World Is Not Prepared for Pandemics

Victor J. Dzau, MD


November 15, 2016

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Hi. I am Victor Dzau, president of the US National Academy of Medicine. I am very pleased to be speaking from the 2016 World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany.

More than a year ago and propelled by the Ebola outbreak, the US National Academy of Medicine was asked by several foundations to commission an international study to look at current disease response preparedness and to project future global response preparedness. We spent 6 months consulting with hundreds of experts. We conducted four workshops in different parts of the world to learn about the major global issues. The subsequent report[1] has implications for all sorts of emerging infectious outbreaks and pandemics.

We have learned that the world is not prepared for pandemics. There are failures at every level. At the international level, there is a lack of coordination and resources; at the national level, there is a lack of public health infrastructure, capacity, and workforce; and at the local level, there is a lack of community trust and engagement.

Our report asserts that pandemics and infectious outbreaks are national and global security problems. These events have an impact on the global economy and on global security. Within the past 100 years, more than 100 million people have died because of Spanish Flu, HIV, and other infections. Of equal importance is the financial impact of these diseases. We project that infectious disease outbreaks in the 21st century will cost the world $6 trillion. Governments must pay attention, invest in health systems, and strengthen the World Health Organization (WHO) so that the world will be much better prepared for these events.

The report talks about fundamental reform of WHO, but it also emphasizes that governments, world leaders, and every country must invest in public health and preparedness. We also affirm the importance of WHO in terms of its leadership and the importance of WHO member-states conforming to the international health regulations. This means that WHO must be more accountable and capable of tracking and evaluating its core competencies. The report also discusses research and development; the need for vaccine development, public/private partnerships, and mobilizing financial initiatives.

In summary, our comprehensive statement looks objectively at the issues of infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics, and affirms that the world needs to be prepared through enhanced coordination, more investment, and better infrastructure, such as improved systems for disease surveillance.


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