World dangerously unprepared for future pandemics

The world is “dangerously unprepared” for future pandemics, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

In a new report, they call on countries to update their preparedness plans by year-end.

In its World Disasters Report 2022, the IFRC said “all countries remain dangerously unprepared for future outbreaks” despite COVID-19 killing more people than any earthquake, drought or hurricane in history.

“The next pandemic could be just around the corner. If the experience of COVID-19 won’t quicken our steps toward preparedness, what will?” said Jagan Chapagain, secretary general of the IFRC, the world’s largest disaster response network.

“There will be no excuse for a continued lack of preparedness after having gone through three terrible years.”

The report said that countries should review their legislation to ensure it is in line with their pandemic preparedness plans by the end of 2023 and adopt a new treaty and revised International Health Regulations by next year that would invest more in the readiness of local communities. 

It also recommended that countries increase domestic health finance by 1% of gross domestic product and global health finance by at least $15 billion per year, which Chapagain described as a “good investment to make”.

“The important thing is there has to be a political will to commit to that,” he said. “If it is there, it’s possible.”

The warning comes in the same week that the World Health Organization (WHO) said that COVID-19 continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern, its highest form of alert.

However, it added that the pandemic is likely in a “transition point” that continues to need careful management to “mitigate the potential negative consequences”, the agency said in a statement.

It is three years since the WHO first declared that COVID represented a global health emergency. 

However, the development of vaccines and measures taken by national health authorities have changed the pandemic situation considerably since 2020. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (pic) has said he hopes to see an end to the emergency this year, particularly if access to counter-measures can be improved globally.

“We remain hopeful that in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce (COVID) hospitalisations and deaths to their lowest possible level,” Tedros told a separate WHO meeting on 30 January.