Health

Brown doctor and ebola survivor explains what we need to do right now to prevent next pandemic

“Even if the next pandemic is years off, it’s likely we have only a few months to lay the groundwork to prepare for it.”

Policymakers must heed warnings from the front line to prevent the next pandemic, according to emergency medicine physician Dr. Craig Spencer.  John Moore / Getty Images, File

After treating ebola patients in Guinea and later surviving the disease himself, Dr. Craig Spencer felt solace thinking he would never again witness the despair he had seen amid the virus outbreak.

“Surely the world would never be this unprepared again,” he reflected Monday in a guest essay in The New York Times.

Enter: The COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Covid was humbling; it revealed just how vulnerable we all are to pandemic threats,” wrote Spencer, an emergency medicine physician and associate professor of the practice of health services, policy, and practice at Brown University School of Public Health. 

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“We remain a simple genetic swap of the influenza genome away from a pandemic more catastrophic than anything we experienced in recent memory,” he warned.

Policymakers must heed warnings from the front line, Spencer wrote. 

“Even if the next pandemic is years off, it’s likely we have only a few months to lay the groundwork to prepare for it,” he wrote. “So what should be done?”

Spencer identified three areas in need of immediate action and investment: expanding disease surveillance — not just among wealthy nations, but in lower-income countries and areas of humanitarian crisis as well — strengthening the global health care workforce, and ensuring equity in access to treatments and vaccines. 

“We need to treat pandemic preparedness as a permanent priority, as we do our national defense, which is allocated hundreds of billions in annual funding even in times of peace,” Spencer urged. “If we allow the destruction of the Covid pandemic to play out again in the future, we’ll have only ourselves — not some pandemic pathogen — to blame.”

Read Spencer’s full essay on The New York Times’ website. 

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