It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost seven months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has impacted every aspect of our day-to-day lives ranging from educational pursuits, food accessibility, and simple social events like visiting family or friends. On a global scale, we’ve dipped into an economic recession which has exacerbated existing social inequalities and struggled with effective guidance and leadership. Our healthcare workers, essential staff, and frontline professionals have worked countless hours combatting the virus with inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and services. Most importantly and regrettably hundreds of thousands of lives have been and continue to be lost.
The last seven months have shown us that the world was not prepared for a pandemic, but we could and should be.
On Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, Vital Strategies convened leading experts to hear from their past experiences responding to outbreaks, lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic response, and what needs to be prioritized going forward to prepare the world for the next pandemic. The VitalTalks event featured the Prevent Epidemics Team at Resolve To Save Lives, Amanda McClelland, Senior Vice President; Dr. Christopher Lee, Senior Technical Advisor; Dr. Emmanuel Agogo, Nigeria Country Representative; and from the Infectious Disease Institute Dr. Immaculate Nabukenya, Senior Project Manager, Global Health Security Program. The event was moderated by Sarah Goodyear, a journalist and podcaster.
Former Director for the Center for Disease Control, Dr. Tom Frieden, began the event reminding attendees “the virus is still out of control” in much of the United States and “right now, one of the things that is most powerful is individual level action and community level action.” Mask-wearing, he highlighted, is one small action that can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. Vital Strategies and its Resolve to Save Lives imitative released guidance on mask use back in August.
Amanda McClelland started the event by shedding light on lessons learned from the COVID-19 response. Moving forward, she expressed the need for decision-makers to be evidence-driven and for effective global leadership that supports and works with science. Instead of searching for that one “silver bullet,” or vaccine, she reinforced that this is the time for global collaboration.
McClelland also noted trust is fundamental, “Countries and communities that have engaged and trusted their leadership with clear, consistent communication, whether that’s about the scientific unknown, or the plans going forward, have done much better than countries that are divided or lack that trust.”
Dr. Christopher Lee pointed out that after West Africa Ebola Pandemic in 2014-2015, countries began to assess their epidemic preparedness. Led by the WHO, the Joint External Evaluation, is a collaborative process aimed to assess a country’s capacities to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to public health crises. Of the 194 Member states that participated only 15 were assessed as prepared. But even countries assessed to have the proper capacities in place, like the United States, many have not been able to effectively control the virus.
According to Dr. Lee, perhaps one of the greatest lessons learned from the Joint External Evaluation and the present COVID-19 response is that: “Even if your own country is prepared, the lack of preparedness in any country in the world can lead to the spread of an infectious agent and this highlights the need to work together.”
Dr. Immaculate Nabukenya shared her experience working in epidemic preparedness. In 2018 Dr. Immaculate along with other officials developed a national action plan for Uganda which assessed and strengthened gaps in the country’s epidemic preparedness. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Uganda was able to work from an already robust preparedness plan developed from past experiences including the Ebola outbreak and anthrax. Dr. Immaculate emphasized the importance of a plan stating, “it helps to be prepared. It helps to work through the community, it helps to have a dedicated team that you can count on”.
Dr. Emmanuel Agogo discussed Nigeria’s experience responding to past outbreaks including Ebola and Monkeypox. He explained that “Before COVID-19 struck, there was an understanding that you can build so much capacity at the national level, but you need to start looking at what’s happening at the sub national level.” That’s been a main area of focus for Emmanuel during COVID-19, “to make sure that even at the state level, you’re better prepared.”
Epidemic preparedness is a multilevel response that requires the leadership, trust and collaboration between multilateral agencies, national governments, and civil society. Our speakers reinforced that to successfully control COVID-19, communities and leaders alike need to join and work together with clear and transparent communication. While the world was not prepared for this pandemic, we can be ready for the next.
To view the full recording of the September 1 VitalTalks, vitalstrategies.org/vital-talks
To learn more about the Prevent Epidemics program, visit: www.preventepidemics.org
About Vital Talks
VitalTalks brings together leading voices from diverse fields to discuss today’s most pressing public health challenges. The speaker series examines today’s often-overlooked drivers of poor health and the factors that get in the way of people’s access to—and experience of—a long, productive and healthy life. Join us as we elevate bold ideas and innovative solutions, working for a world where everyone, everywhere is protected by a strong public health system. #VitalTalks #ReimaginingPublicHealth
For more information, visit: https://www.vitalstrategies.org/vitaltalks/