WHO seeks urgent investments against next pandemic

•Ihekweazu says WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence is working to strengthen collaboration within, between countries
•Lassa fever labs, treatment centres, health workers ensured Nigeria had foundational capacity to respond to COVID-19
•Says behavioural, social sciences are critical for pandemic prevention, preparedness, response

To prevent and be able to contain the next pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, called for more investments in preparations against the next pandemic.

An epidemiologist, public health physician and WHO’s Assistant Director General, Health Emergency Intelligence as well as former Director General (D.G.) of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian: “COVID-19 has been an unprecedented public health emergency. Despite its impact, I think it has led to stronger focus on the importance of epidemic and pandemic preparedness. We are seeing a convergence of political will and public interest in strengthening health security in countries but also at regional and global level.

“We must rapidly increase funding and make these funding rapidly available, to improve preparedness across countries. Global health institutions like WHO need to be stronger in coordinating global response activities and we have begun to see these improvements such as with the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence. We need to strengthen collaboration both within and between countries and this is an area that the new Hub is working very hard on.

“From COVID-19, we know that no country is safe until every country is safe. Therefore, investments in preparedness must start now for countries, regions and globally.”

On the factors that have enabled Nigeria’s response to contain COVID-19 pandemic, Ihekweazu said the Federal Government has shown political commitment and will in responding to the pandemic through the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and that the leadership by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation ensured a harmonised and coordinated multi-sectoral response.

He said the foundation that had been laid in responding to outbreaks like Lassa fever also enabled Nigeria’s response.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, the laboratories, treatment centres and health workers that were available to respond to COVID-19, had been working on Lassa fever. By building this, the NCDC and other institutions ensured that Nigeria had the foundational capacity to respond to a pandemic,” Ihekweazu said.

The epidemiologist said the hard work and commitment of health workers across the country have been very critical. He said these health workers have been responsible for testing and vaccinating, treating cases, ensuring risk communications, providing supplies rapidly amongst others.

“All of these factors must continue to be strengthened in preparedness for endemic outbreaks and the next pandemic,” Ihekweazu said.

Also, the WHO has said behavioural and social sciences are critical for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

Members of the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health in an Open letter to the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, said: “We, the, write to ask you to explicitly include the behavioural and social sciences in the new international instrument as they are critical for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

“COVID-19 has confirmed that the behavioural and social sciences have guided our understanding of the drivers of transmission and how to design and deliver effective interventions. Changing behaviours is complex and may not happen even when life is at stake – it requires more than clinical and epidemiological expertise.

“To ensure a robust international instrument, our first suggestion is that you consider including uses of behavioural and social sciences in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response at relevant places in the international instrument. This ranges from informed political and public health leadership, the choice of legislation for mandatory vaccination, financial measures to support self-isolation, guidance and scripts for contact tracing, and tailored communications for vulnerable communities to minimise health inequalities.

“Second, we propose the inclusion of at least one article focusing on critical behavioural and social actions for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. One example of this is ‘intensify and target risk communication, strengthen community engagement, empowerment and support, addressing community concerns, combating misinformation and building trust’ as highlighted by the WHO Director-General in his charge to countries at the World Health Assembly in 2021”

To facilitate the appropriate integration of behavioural and social sciences in the new international instrument, the WHO team proposed that experts in behavioural and social sciences should be included as members of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body or as advisors. “We, together with WHO Headquarters’ behavioural sciences team, can help source these experts,” they said.

Source: Guardian.ng

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