Other Pandemics Will Come After COVID-19 – Sir George
There is absolutely no doubt that there will be another infectious disease pandemic after COVID-19.
This is the grave assurance of Sir George Alleyne, Director Emeritus of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and former Chancellor of the University of the West Indies(UWI).
In his feature presentation during a webinar by PAHO/WHO on Tuesday, July 7, Alleyne spoke on a post-COVID world and what needs to be done in this period.
“When we plan for ‘post-COVID world’, I like to say that there are three uncomfortable truths which we have to face,” Alleyne explained.
The first is that the population of the World and the Caribbean will continue to age, and second is that Non communicable diseases (NCDs) will “always be with us”.
NCDs cannot be transferred from one person to another and some examples are cancer, hypertension, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.
Persons living with NCDs are more likely to become severely ill or die from COVID-19, and the majority of deaths from COVID-19 occur in those over the age of 60. Alleyne noted that there is currently an increased prevalence of NCDs, and that the older population are more likely to have NCDs.
The third uncomfortable truth is that “there will be another infectious disease pandemic. Absolutely no doubt about this.”
He referred to “an amazing series of data” collected by a doctor who took thousands of samples from all over world.
“…He found that there were some 1200 new viruses in those samples, and of those 1200 new viruses, over 160 were potentially zoonotic, over 160 viruses could possibly infect mankind.”
“So it is not if…it is but when and what will be another infectious disease pandemic,” Alleyne asserted.
Indeed, even while the world is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the international media in June reported that there is a new strain of flu found in pigs in China that has “all the hallmarks” of being able to infect humans.
“So before the next vile pandemic arrives there is one other aspect which I would like to emphasise, which has been in large part responsible for the good performance of the Caribbean health system… and that is to ensure that our systems are resilient,” Alleyne stated.
He said that there are four characteristics that are essential for health systems to keep in mind.
Firstly, they must be “aware” and “provide information…information which I contend is the life blood of public health.” They have to be agile, and able to respond to the urgency of Zika and Dengue as well as to NCDs. They have to be adaptive and articulate.
“…If they’re going to be faithful to the dictum of universal health coverage this articulation of health systems is critical indeed,” Alleyne contemplated.
Additionally, in building back a better world post COVID, the world is going to have to improve the management of the existing NCDs.
He suggested what is called the rectangularization of the life span. “You should have an NCD free life span and compress morbidity into the last few years of life,” he commented, and in order to do so, “You need to focus on things that can prevent NCDs as early as possible.”
These would be things like attention to maternal health. Smoking and obesity are the two major factors in youngsters that predispose them to the possibility of NCDs later on in life.
“The Caribbean countries are signatories to the rights of the child and it is a negation of the basic rights of children to allow them to become obese,” Alleyne reminded.