'Around 28% chances that world will see a pandemic in the next 10 years': What experts have to say on future outbreaks

The coronavirus pandemic, which began in 2019, has so far claimed the lives of 5,311,680 people across the globe. Nations keep battling aga...

The coronavirus pandemic, which began in 2019, has so far claimed the lives of 5,311,680 people across the globe.

Nations keep battling against the infection, which keeps mutating — the newest variant being identified as Omicron from South Africa.

After almost two years of this battle, the question everyone seems to be asking is when will this end, and will the world see another medical emergency such as COVID-19?

We examine what experts have to say on this matter.

Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in a recent lecture hinted that the world would face another and it could be even worse than the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was quoted as saying, "This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods. The next one could be worse... It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both."

She further stated that the scientific advances made and knowledge gained in research fighting against the coronavirus must not be lost. “We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness,” she said. “Just as we invest in armed forces and intelligence and diplomacy to defend against wars, we must invest in people, research, manufacturing and institutions to defend against pandemics.”

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, too is of the same opinion when it comes to the matter of future pandemics.

She said that the world needs to think about getting to the end of this pandemic but also, at the same time, preparing for the next one.

While COVID-19 is broadly viewed as being a 'once in a lifetime' or 'once in a century' pandemic; unfortunately, that is not accurate.

A team from Metabiota, a California-based firm that specialises in pandemic threat management, estimates that the next pandemic might not be as far away as we think. They estimate that the probability of a future zoonotic spillover event resulting in a pandemic of COVID-19 magnitude or larger is between 2.5-3.3 percent annually. In other words, there is a 22-28 percent chance that another outbreak on the magnitude of COVID-19 will occur within the next 10 years, and a 47-57 percent chance that it will occur within the next 25 years.

Another study led by Marco Marani, PhD, of the University of Padua in Italy estimated that a pandemic similar in scale to COVID-19 is likely within a span of 59 years.

David Aronoff, MD, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, and professor and Addison B Scoville Jr Chair in Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, too opined that the next pandemic was coming.

He said his concern was with diseases that might not cause pandemics, but cause small epidemics. A good example, according to him, was Gonorrhea. "It’s increasingly hard to treat with antibiotics, and increasingly easy to spread."

Are we ready for this ‘inevitability’?

Sadly not, it seems.

According to the new 2021 Global Health Security (GHS) Index, the world remains unprepared for future epidemic and pandemic threats.

The world’s overall performance on the GHS Index score slipped to 38.9 (out of 100) in 2021, from a score of 40.2 in the GHS Index, 2019.

The study showed that India, with a score of 42.8 (out of 100) too, has slipped by 0.8 points since 2019. But three neighbouring countries — Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives — have improved their score by 1-1.2 points.
The study showed that all countries had insufficient health capacities, leaving the world acutely vulnerable to future health emergencies.

Sixty-five percent of assessed countries had not published and implemented an overarching national public health emergency response plan for diseases with epidemic or pandemic potential. Seventy-three percent countries did not have the ability to provide expedited approval for medical countermeasures, such as vaccines and antiviral drugs, during a public health emergency.

How can we prevent a new pandemic?

One of the ways to prevent future outbreaks would be changing human behaviour. Improving health and hygienic conditions of people would be a sure-shot manner in avoiding an outbreak. Also, improving health infrastructure seems to be the obvious answer to this issue.

Scientists have also spotlighted three approaches to at least reduce the risk of pandemic potential diseases – screening animals and reducing land-use change .

Manuel Ruiz, wildlife veterinarian at Montana State University in the US, said that one of the best ways to prevent the next pandemic is to “sample animals across the world to characterise potential pathogens”.

Instead of spending money to curb outbreaks once they occurred, “we could invest in reforestation and in trying to change the way we interact with wildlife, and alter our level of land-use change”, Ruiz said.

In several studies published in 2020, parts of India were classified as potential hotspots from where the next pandemic may emerge, partly due to increased rates of land-use change in the country.

Virat Jolli, director of the New Delhi-based organisation Biodiversity and Environmental Sustainability was quoted as telling PTI forest fragmentation for mining, road, and railways projects may lead to the emergence of new diseases.

With inputs from agencies

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India World News: 'Around 28% chances that world will see a pandemic in the next 10 years': What experts have to say on future outbreaks
'Around 28% chances that world will see a pandemic in the next 10 years': What experts have to say on future outbreaks
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