To prevent the next pandemic, follow the science

To prevent the next pandemic, follow the science

Science is crucial to improving pandemic preparedness and prevention. It not only deepens our understanding of pathogen transmission and containment, but also provides us with the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. Relying on scientific evidence enables us to contain risks at the local level, reduce the delay between early warning and action, ensure the effectiveness and reliability of control measures, and accelerate the development and dissemination of safe treatments, thus protecting public health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical role of science-based policies in addressing global health crises. It taught us the importance of creating strong early warning systems, making data-based decisions, and strengthening multidisciplinary collaboration. It also highlighted the need for flexible strategies, equitable health care, widespread access to vaccination, and mental health support.

Trust in science and experience was and continues to be vital to implementing effective control measures. Policymakers should heed lessons learned from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and focus on building resilience and strengthening international cooperation to prepare for future pandemics while maintaining public trust in science and experts through clear communication. Recognizing social, economic and geopolitical contexts has proven to be as important as understanding biological factors in managing public health crises. Therefore, adopting a comprehensive approach consistent with the One Health approach is crucial for developing preventive policies.

Effective prevention, preparedness and response require ongoing cooperation and coordination between scientists, policymakers, health care professionals and the general public. To mitigate the impact of pandemics, we must remain committed to making decisions based on science, and regularly review and adapt our strategies.

This requires a multifaceted approach that bridges the gap between science and policy and engages all relevant stakeholders. We must ensure that scientific research and data are transparent and accessible to policymakers. Encouraging open publishing and promoting data exchange among researchers is no longer sufficient; We must translate data into understandable and actionable insights.

To implement such a strategy, policymakers should focus on seven key priorities. First, they must promote an evidence-based culture that grounds decisions in scientific research and data, and encourages policymakers to consult scientific experts and consider their recommendations.

Second, participatory approaches are crucial to mobilizing and sustaining public support for science-based policies. By creating platforms and promoting methodologies that encourage open dialogue, scientists can build bridges between policymakers, civil society, and the broader scientific community.

Third, it is necessary to organize regular briefings and meetings where scientists can update policymakers on the latest research findings and emerging threats. These briefings should be brief and focused on actionable insights.

Fourth, experts should focus on improving scientific culture among policymakers. This can be facilitated through training programmes, workshops and educational materials designed to simplify complex scientific concepts.

Fifth, scientific modeling and scenario planning can help policymakers understand the potential consequences of different decisions. These models can provide the basis for formulating effective strategies and improving resource allocation.

Sixth, it is crucial to conduct regular risk assessments based on scientific evidence to identify potential epidemiological threats. These assessments must take into account biological, social, economic and geopolitical factors.

Finally, policymakers must recognize the complexity of today’s emerging threats. As public health risks become increasingly intertwined with climate, environmental and social crises, a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral One Health approach holds the key to addressing interconnected emergencies.

If there had been greater investment in scientific research, international cooperation, preventive measures, health infrastructure, and just response strategies before the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the world would have been better prepared. From this standpoint, we have identified several principles that will enable us to prepare for future pandemics.

We call on policymakers and researchers around the world to establish interdisciplinary One Health committees or task forces that bring together policymakers, experts, scientists from different disciplines – including the social sciences – and other stakeholders. These committees will be responsible for analyzing scientific evidence, proposing relevant and adaptable strategies, and providing guidance to decision-makers.

To enhance preparedness and response during crises, we call for the development of mechanisms at the country level that will facilitate discussions between scientists, decision-makers and the general public. This would encourage the exchange of information and help raise awareness of potential risks.

We also recommend developing indicators that reflect social and economic health at the local level. Policymakers need to take these indicators into account, along with potential externalities and other factors that may precipitate public health emergencies. In times of uncertainty, the precautionary principle should guide decision-making.

We suggest implementing adaptation strategies that incorporate the latest scientific knowledge. These plans must be regularly evaluated and improved to reflect new findings. A systematic approach to epidemic prevention, preparedness and response can help determine which measures are effective and which require modification.

Active engagement with the general public and the media will be crucial to enhance understanding of the science behind public health measures and ensure that the right messages are communicated clearly and effectively. Furthermore, empowering communities by engaging them in developing prevention solutions should be a top priority.

International scientific cooperation and coordination is imperative. By building on past and existing innovations, we can maximize resource use and leverage a global pool of expertise and data.

Long-term financing is also very important in making decisions on a scientific basis. Investment in research, surveillance and preparedness must be sustained over time, not just in pandemic response. By adjusting funding mechanisms to allow flexibility in supporting cross-sector projects, we can tailor goals to local needs.

Incorporating science-based solutions into decision-making is an ongoing process that requires collaboration, trust, and a firm commitment to using the best available evidence to shape policies and actions. To ensure the effectiveness of epidemic prevention strategies, monitoring and adaptation mechanisms must be established.

The sixth annual Paris Peace Forum from 10 to 11 November, in particular the session “From Science to Policy: How to Make Decisions on Epidemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response?” It will provide policymakers and donors with an opportunity to reflect on the hard-learned lessons of the past three years and confront these pressing challenges head-on.

This review was written in collaboration with Prizod Consortiuminternational scholars, policymakers, civil society organizations, private sector actors, and international donors.

that it Signed by: Magda Robalo, President of the Institute for Global Health and Development, former Minister of Health of Guinea-Bissau; Baba Seck, Senior Advisor to the President of the Republic of Senegal; Mary Ang Saraka Yao, Head of Resource Mobilization and Growth, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi); Brigitte Otran, Member of the Committee for Monitoring and Anticipating Health Risks (COVARS); Jens Nielsen, CEO of the Global Climate Foundation; Eloise Todd, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Epidemiological Action Network; Jean-Luc Angot, Special Envoy for the Preventing the Emergence of Zoonotic Diseases (PREZODE) initiative; Elisabeth Claverie de Saint-Martin, President and CEO of the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD); Philippe Mogwen, CEO, INRAE; Valerie Verdier, CEO of the French National Institute for Sustainable Development Research (IRD); Muso Munyemi, Professor of Veterinary Public Health, Department of Disease Control, One Health Coordinator (ACEIDHA), University of Zambia; Usman Dar, One Health Project Director, Royal Institute of International Affairs; Cheryl Stroud, Executive Director of the One Health Commission; Thi Phung Vu, One Health Partnership Secretariat, Vietnam; Manuel Miller, Vice President, VSF-International; Pham Duc Phuc, coordinator at Vietnam One Health University Network (VOHUN); Zeev Noga, Secretary General of PREZODE; Agnès Socat, Director of Health and Social Protection at the French Development Agency; Thierry Lefrançois, One Health Consultant at CIRAD, and COVARS Member; And more.

written by

Peter Sands, Justin Weiss, and Marissa Beer


This article was originally published by Project Syndicate on November 10, 2023

Copyrights: Syndicate Project, 2023.

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