Coronavirus certainly wasn’t the first pandemic that our globe saw. We’ve had HIV/AIDS, and multiple flu and cholera pandemics. Importantly, coronavirus likely won’t be our last pandemic, either. While we can’t control everything, there are absolutely things that we could do to help prevent the next pandemic from happening — or at the very least, lessen the severity of it.
Let’s dive in.
Preventing Another Pandemic: What Would it Take?
As the World Health Organization defines, a pandemic is “the worldwide spread of a new disease,” one that most people don’t have immunity to. Since it’s not possible to ensure that the majority of us are immune to literally everything, what else are our options?
1. Being Proactive Versus Reactive
Every country collectively hit the panic button when we all realized just how serious coronavirus was going to be. In reality, there is indeed more we could’ve done to better cushion the blow that the pandemic delivered.
We need the medical, political, and financial infrastructure to be able to more effectively deliver emergency medical care to all. This isn’t an easy task, of course; but it still might be easier than we all think. According to one report by the Global Preparedness and Monitoring Board, this preparation could mean a cost of $5 per person, per year. COVID-19 has already cost the United States trillions of dollars (and counting). So, $5 per person to improve prevention isn’t all that bad.
2. Decrease Deforestation
This one might seem unrelated, but keep reading.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than six of every 10 “known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals.” Furthermore, three out of four new infectious diseases in people actually come from animals.
Thus, protecting people from zoonotic diseases is more important than you might realize. And deforestation plays a huge role in this.
Land-use change — which can include development and agricultural expansion — is the biggest trigger of new diseases. The further into the undisturbed forest that humans venture, the more they’re exposed to animals (sometimes new animals they haven’t been exposed to yet) and the diseases that they are carrying. This is also known as “virus spillover.”
But truthfully, it doesn’t take exploring the forest to expose yourself to virus spillover. It can happen anywhere there is wildlife — like a wild animal or fish market. (Sound familiar? As far as we know, this is how coronavirus started.)
Astonishingly, a tiny 10% of tropical forests carry more than half of the worldwide risk for virus spillover. This is why putting effort into reducing deforestation is of utmost importance.
As an added benefit, it would also save the world money and improve climate change.
3. Reduce National and International Wildlife Trade
Now that you know how important it is to have a separation between humans and wildlife, this one might make more sense.
Wildlife trade means big bucks: It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. However, it also presents serious danger to public health. The instant wildlife is moved from one location to another, any diseases that those animals carry are immediately exposed to a new area and new humans. It’s one of the quickest ways to spread illness.
Can we eliminate the wildlife trade completely? That might not be a realistic expectation. At the very least, though, we need to be more thoroughly monitoring and restricting it. This goes back to the concept of being proactive, not reactive. If we can better control the wildlife trade, we’ll be better able to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases.
4. Break the Cycle of “Panic and Forget”
Have you ever noticed that whenever something terrible happens, in the beginning, it feels like the end of the world? And then once that sense of shock and helplessness wears off, we become desensitized to it?
That doesn’t mean that the terrible thing is over. It means we’ve simply become accustomed to hearing about it.
This happened with coronavirus, and it undoubtedly contributed to its severity.
COVID-19 first hit headlines in early 2020, and soon after, it stunned people around the globe. It was all anyone could talk about, think about. It was all the media could share on TV, the radio, and the internet. Everywhere you turned, it was coronavirus coverage.
And then… people got tired of hearing about it.
Everything was supposed to die down by Easter. Then, it was summer. Now, here we are roughly a year later, and coronavirus is still very much a serious issue. Certain parts of the world saw their deadliest months as recently as January. But too many people are sick of staying home, avoiding friends and family, wearing masks… Too many people have the attitude of, “Well, I’m young and healthy, so I don’t need to worry.”
And that is a huge issue.
Fighting a pandemic means attacking it head-on from Day 1 and not letting up until the public is safe again. In the future, we would be wise to remember this.
5. Prioritize Early Detection
As a global initiative, we need to better build out the financial, medical, and political framework for early detection and control processes. This might mean creating a library of virus genetics, so whenever a new pathogen emerges, we’re better able to track the source of it before matters get worse.
It also means making it possible for people to get tested and treated sooner. Healthcare, in general, should be affordable and accessible for all — emergency medical care, even more so.
We’ve learned a lot from coronavirus. While this will hopefully help us to better prepare in the future, it also cost us far too many lives. Prevention is key. If we do things like trust science, have a clear separation between humans and wildlife, and prioritize proactivity over reactivity, we’ll stand a far better chance of avoiding a disaster like this in the future.