The unfortunate assessment comes from the independent body for epidemic preparedness and response. A year ago, the panel told the main annual assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) that poor coordination and poor decisions had allowed the COVID-19 pandemic to develop to such a catastrophic scale. The experts also provided a long list of measures needed to beat Covid and ensure that the world is better prepared for similar threats in the future.
But a year later, the team’s follow-up assessment was that global reform efforts in this area have been too slow and dispersed.
They said the world was still “messing around” with necessary changes and that the resulting inaction was laying “the foundation for another pandemic.”
Committee co-chair and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said: “We have pretty much the same tools and the same system that were in place in December 2019 to respond to the pandemic threat.
“These tools weren’t good enough.”
However, the assessment is not entirely bleak – Ms Clark noted how the mechanisms created in response to Covid have allowed the world to deliver some 1.5 billion doses of vaccine to poor countries.
The politician also praised the efforts being made to diversify the production of both vaccines and antiviral drugs.
An agreement is expected soon to provide safer and more flexible funding to the WHO, along with plans to create a fund dedicated to future pandemics.
Experts are also looking forward to relevant changes to the International Health Regulations, while negotiations are also underway to develop a treaty or other form of legal tools to help simplify a global approach to preparing for and dealing with future pandemics.
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“The transformative work needed at the global level to prevent the next pandemic has begun,” said Ms. Clark.
However, she cautioned, these changes are coming at a very icy pace.
For example, the WHO budget change is not expected to take effect for nearly a decade.
Ms Clark added: “At the current pace, there is still an effective system years away – when a pandemic threat could occur at any time.
“If there’s a risk of a new pandemic this year, next year, or the year after, at least, we’ll be pretty much in the same place we were in December 2019.”
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The warnings come as experts note the increasing risks posed by creating deadly pathogens in laboratory conditions – which can be released into the world either by accident or on purpose by bad actors.
Last year, biosecurity and public health experts fought a war game of what might happen if terrorists released a genetically modified strain of monkeypox that is resistant to the smallpox vaccine.
This exercise was a collaboration between the World Health Organization, the US National Security Council, the African and Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and representatives from various biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
The scenario was conceived for 18 months, during which more than three billion people fell ill and more than 250 million died as a result.
While it was a fictional pandemic, experts said the exercise helped them come up with a number of useful, if bleak, predictions about how the next pandemic might happen.
Their report warns: “The next global catastrophe could be caused by the willful misuse of modern biology tools or by a lab accident.”
They added that when it comes to laboratory safety and oversight of risky research, the current system is “not ready to meet current security requirements, nor is it ready to meet significantly expanded challenges in the future.”
Fortunately for humanity, recent outbreaks of monkeypox – which, to date, include nine cases in the UK – do not appear to have the benefit of increasing their genes.
The disease causes chills, fatigue, fever, and muscle aches at first, and more severe cases often present with a rash on the face and genitals. It is spread by close contact.
International public health expert Jamie Whitworth from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “This will not cause a nationwide epidemic as Covid has.
“But it is a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we must take it seriously.”