How to Prepare for Future Pandemics

November 5, 2020 11:35:00

More than a century ago, the Spanish flu pandemic spread across the globe, claiming the lives of an estimated 50 million people. Unlike today, there were no mechanical ventilators, diagnostic tests or anti-inflammatory medications apart from aspirin. The first vaccines of the diseases weren’t even available until 1936, almost two decades after the destruction of the Spanish flu.

According to forecasts by the Imperial College London, approximately 1.3 million people will succumb to the coronavirus this year. Many factors have reduced the mortality rates of the disease, including advanced technology and better execution of social-distancing measures.

In the United States alone, about $50 billion has been spent since January to increase the testing, diagnosis, vaccine creation and treatment of COVID-19. While many countries are still battling the pandemic with lockdown measures in place, others have fully contained the virus and are well on their way back to normalcy.

Many lives have been lost around the globe due to incompetence and lack of relevant measures in place. To ensure that this is avoided in the event of a future pandemic, here are a few ways we can prepare for such an eventuality.

  • Investing in cutting-edge technologies

As we have seen, technology has not only prevented many from dying due to coronavirus-related complications but has also tremendously sped up the development of both antiviral drugs and vaccines. Unlike normal vaccine development, which may take years, developing a COVID-19 vaccine has become a race between the virus and humans. With at least 17 coronavirus vaccine candidates in clinical trials, barely months after the first recorded case, it’s clear that technology will not only endure but it may even be the key to a far more effective response in the event of a future pandemic.

  • Look into digital contact tracing

There are two main things that differentiate the successful responses in Asian countries such as Korea, which managed to contain the virus, and countries such as the United States, which failed to respond correctly at the pandemic’s onset: contact tracing and testing.

Testing was too inaccurate and unavailable in the U.S. when it was most needed. With results taking two weeks for confirmation, the disease rapidly spread. To help prevent this from re-occurring in the future, researchers should develop a system that allows rapid testing on a large scale and takes a short time to produce results.

Not to say things were rosy on the other side though. Despite the successful containment rate in Asian countries, it came at the price of people’s privacy. Through digital contact tracing, countries such as South Korea and China were able to rapidly suppress the viral disease, using smartphone apps that tracked the movements of individuals.

While this method is intrusive, it has proven to be effective. For the future, researchers should come up with solutions based off of this method but tailored to be less-intrusive. It has been proven that almost all major infectious outbreaks in today’s world are brought about by zoonotic transfer. This is when the pathogen is transmitted from an animal to a human. With other factors such as the growth in livestock farming and loss of natural habitats at play, animal populations are coming into more contact with people.

It may be hard to slow or stop these global trends, so to mount a robust response for future pandemics, countries should ensure that communities are well informed on everything related to the outbreaks, that good governance is employed and measures are put in place (a contingency plan if you may), and that suitable technology is available.

One interesting entity you need to watch in the biomedical field is Predictive Oncology (NASDAQ: POAI). The company’s singular focus is to apply data and artificial intelligence in the quest for personalized medicine in the treatment of different cancers.

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