Discussion: Lessons from the coronavirus pandemic to avert a future crisis

The World
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A woman is shown through a clear glass window with the reflection of a Mexico City neighborhood.

The United States and Britain are among the countries worst hit by the coronavirus and have faced criticism for their handling of the pandemic. But only last year, they ranked as the countries most prepared for a major health crisis.

The ranking suggests that when it comes to preparedness, “we’re not measuring what we need to measure,” said Kristie Ebi, a University of Washington public health specialist — adding that also applies to emerging threats from climate change.

The coronavirus is now helping “every country measure and evaluate the (preparedness) of their health system”, said Niranjan Saggurti, director of the Indian office of the Population Council, a health and development research nonprofit.

Related discussion: What role will antibodies have in a future immunity to the coronavirus?

In Africa, where the rich regularly jet abroad for care as national health systems struggle, the virus is sparking a rethink about how sturdy systems need to be, said Chris Gordon, a University of Ghana environmental scientist.

“I think a lot of world leaders in developing countries have taken the coronavirus much more seriously than other events because of the lockdown,” he said. “Privileged classes can no longer fly to the Western world or places like Singapore to get health care. They’re stuck with the health systems they’ve created, and I think this is what has made them sit up.”

That has led in some countries to plans for new hospitals and additional money going to research institutions to help investigate vaccines, Gordon said.

The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the critical role of public health in protecting people around the world. But the crisis has also exposed the need for more investment to help prevent a pandemic of this magnitude from happening again.

As part of our weekly series taking your questions to the experts, The World’s Elana Gordon moderated a discussion with Dr. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg professor of the practice of public health leadership at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School, as well as the 14th Assistant Secretary for Health for the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Koh addressed our response to the current pandemic and how it is intricately tied to strengthening and building a better public health system that builds on hard-won lessons.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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