In the following article, some worrying highlights from the current WHO report: ”A World At Risk” are collected and further analysed.
If it is true to say “what’s past is prologue”, then there is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5% of the world’s economy. A global pandemic on that scale would be catastrophic, creating widespread havoc, instability and insecurity. The world is not prepared.
For too long, we have allowed a cycle of panic and neglect when it comes to pandemics: we ramp up efforts when there is a serious threat, then quickly forget about them when the threat subsides. It is well past time to act.
The world is confronted by increasing infectious disease outbreaks. Between 2011 and 2018, WHO tracked 1483 epidemic events in 172 countries (3). Epidemic-prone diseases such as influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Ebola, Zika, plague, yellow fever and others, are harbingers of a new era of high-impact, potentially fast-spreading outbreaks that are more frequently detected and increasingly difficult to manage.
The chances of a global pandemic are growing. Taken together, naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate events caused by high-impact respiratory pathogens pose “global catastrophic biological risks”
The world is not prepared for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic. In addition to tragic levels of mortality, such a pandemic could cause panic, destabilize national security and seriously impact the global economy and trade.
The great majority of national health systems would be unable to handle a large influx of patients infected with a respiratory pathogen capable of easy transmissibility and high mortality.
High-impact respiratory pathogens, such as an especially deadly strain of influenza, pose particular global risks in the modern age. The pathogens are spread via respiratory droplets; they can infect a large number of people very quickly and, with today’s transportation infrastructure, move rapidly across multiple geographies.
In addition to a greater risk of pandemics from natural pathogens, scientific developments allow for disease-causing microorganisms to be engineered or recreated in laboratories. Should countries, terrorist groups, or scientifically advanced individuals create or obtain and then use biological weapons that have the characteristics of a novel, high-impact respiratory pathogen, the consequences could be as severe as, or even greater, than those of a natural epidemic, as could an accidental release of epidemic-prone microorganisms.
Tiny pathogens behind respiratory infections
Reading the above makes you scared. Thinking what could be done to be better prepared. There are of course several things from vaccinations and medications to infrastructure and political determination. Huge things that have to be dealt with. However with my 20+ years experience with air decontamination in hospital critical surroundings makes me think why reacting is so slow. In the following I will give one example in an area I know well.
The report pinpoints high-impact respiratory pathogens as the main risk of lethal pandemia. We have known for a while that the amount of respiratory infections from airborne droplet nucleis has increased. We are typically talking about very small pathogens –the insidious invisible element.
Fighting viruses in hospitals is based on outdated technology
What do we do? The most used technology in hospitals still relies on fiber filters invented in 1950s. They do not catch viruses and they serve as growth platform for bacteria and fungus. There are also innovative technologies available that can catch the ultra-fine particles and kill all microbes in the process.
The problem is that the traditional guidelines demand hepa-filtration and they are designed for hepa-filtration. That leads to a situation, where even when the staff working in the infectious isolation rooms is scared of the possible release of pathogens from the fiber filters, and the amount of negative pressure is not stable due to constant pressure drop creating risk factors.
We have a solution for all this if only the guidelines and regulations would follow the technology development. Faster reacting is needed!
Source: Global Preparedness Monitoring Board. A world at risk: annual report on global preparedness for health emergencies. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.