A small window to prevent the next pandemic. Being perpetually unprepared for global disease outbreaks is not the future the society wants, but it's our fate if we don't lay the groundwork for the next pandemic.

At the outset of every outbreak, a small window exists when response means the difference between containment and catastrophe. 

As the crisis wanes, a similar window exists when there's enough will among people and politicians to push for better preparations for other pandemics. With Covid, that window is fast closing.

Covid has been called a once-in-a-century pandemic, but that doesn't mean we're now afforded 100 years of solitude. In our recent past, smallpox and yellow fever outbreaks frequently decimated populations.

Vaccines and new treatments helped turn the tide, but with an apparent uptick in emerging diseases, that equilibrium appears to be tilting back.

The World Health Organization has declared six public health emergencies of international concern since 2014. Ebola outbreaks are increasing in frequency. There's a very concerning one happening now in Uganda, caused by a species of the Ebola virus with no approved drug treatment or vaccine.

Even diseases once controlled have re-emerged; polio is circulating in the United States again, after it was eliminated here decades ago.

Multiple factors are behind the rise in the number and diversity of outbreaks. Climate change is altering the movement of hosts and pathogens alike. Population increases places the two closer together, increasing the likelihood of pathogen spillover from animals to humans.

And global migration and trade networks allow such threats to travel far afield before surveillance networks identify them or travel restrictions can effectively prevent their import.

Yet in the wake of most major public health threats - H.I.V., anthrax, SARS, Ebola - investments and interest consistently peak, only to wane in predictable cycles.

While Covid causes over 300 deaths a day in the United States, a largely preventable toll that could amount to double our flu season, Congress remains unable to secure funding for future Covid vaccines and response, let along the $88 billion requested over five years for the pandemic preparedness and biodefense.

And if the political control of the House and Senate changes hands soon and White House leadership shifts in 2024, the likelihood of sustained investment in preparedness could be at even greater risk.

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. So what should be done?

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.

The Essay Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Craig Spencer, an emergency medicine physician and an associate professor of the practice of health services, policy and practice at Brown University School of Public Health, for his opinion.


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