Since 1998, there have been numerous outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases with rapid responses that have helped to contain them. While lessons have been learned in each case, sustained improvements in capacities to detect, respond and prevent future outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics were not realized.
For example, in February 2021, a new outbreak of Ebola was reported in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, despite the previous effective response to the 2014–2016 Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in which more than 11,300 people died. This recent example re-emphasizes the need for sustained actions to combat emerging infectious diseases and prevent rapid spread when they occur.
Emerging infectious diseases have been increasing in frequency worldwide, demonstrating weaknesses in our ability to prevent, detect and respond to them. A panoply of factors has led us here: rapid population growth in areas with weak health systems, urbanization, globalization, climate change, civil conflict, microbial resistance to drugs, the changing nature of pathogen transmission between human and animal populations, and human-originated outbreaks emanating from laboratory accidents or intentional biological attacks.
COVID-19 has been a harsh wake-up call to the global health community on how devastating a global pandemic can be. As of October 3, 2021, globally there have been almost 235 million cases of COVID-19, and global deaths are approaching 4.8 million. The impact of COVID-19 could have been significantly minimized if global health security principles and interventions had been further advanced and if political will had been effectively mobilized to prevent spread.
We are at an exceedingly perilous and urgent moment in the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Delta variant has demonstrated, we are fighting a virus that does not respect borders and rapidly advances across continents. If the virus continues to circulate unchecked in large parts of the world, we will see not only millions more infections and deaths, but also new variants that could totally pierce vaccine immunity, returning the world to square one.
The global COVID-19 crisis demands leadership and a global plan of attack. A coordinated, global response, the only possible successful response to the pandemic, must be grounded in equity at all levels — global, regional, national, subnational and community. An “all-hands-on- deck” crisis response must deploy all available resources and capabilities — multilateral and bilateral, public and private sector. A robust and effective response to the current crisis is also the best foundation for health systems strengthening and future pandemic preparedness.
With this in mind, FHI 360 has established a new division to lead our efforts to support the fight against emerging infectious diseases and health security threats. Our new Emerging Infectious Diseases and Health Security (EIDHS) division will collaborate with local, regional and global stakeholders, funders, and implementers to identify and implement innovative, effective and sustainable solutions to address the threats of infectious diseases and strengthen the systems to provide affordable, comprehensive and accessible health services for all.
We recognize that there are many lessons to be learned from COVID-19, and these must be used to design and implement more sustainable health systems able to detect, respond to and prevent future outbreaks. We must be nimbler to respond when an outbreak starts to prevent rapid spread and significant mortality, morbidity, and economic and social loss. EIDHS, supported by our robust global footprint, is committed to being part of the needed response and helping to build capacity to prevent future outbreaks.