World Not Prepared For Future Pandemics; IFRC

Though COVID-19 pandemic showed the world the importance of being prepared, the world is “dangerously unprepared” for future pandemics, warned the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in a scathing new report.

In its World Disasters Report released on January 30, 2022, the IFRC said “despite the COVID-19 pandemic showing the world the importance of being prepared, countries are not ready for another public health emergency.”

START PREPARE NOW AS WORLD IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY HAZARDOUS

The report mentions that 378 disasters In 2021 were recorded, – not including disease outbreaks – which is higher than the 20-year average of 337 disasters per year. Many countries had to respond to hazards like hurricanes and floods while also dealing with COVID-19. Much of the increase in hazards is driven by a rise in climate- and weather-related disasters. Alongside this, the 21st century has seen a wave of disease outbreaks, of which COVID-19 is just one, albeit the largest. This increasingly hazard-prone world demands a global effort to help communities develop preparedness, to reduce the burden of suffering and mortality, the report said.

The IFRC said “true preparedness means being ready for multiple hazards, not just one.” The report said that one of the biggest surprises of the COVID-19 pandemic was that many countries that were seemingly well prepared for a disease outbreak struggled to cope with the coronavirus. It also goes beyond pathogens: societies that prepare well for disease outbreaks but neglect to prepare for extreme weather events will still find themselves vulnerable if a hurricane strikes. Societies can only become resilient by developing disaster frameworks that can handle multiple types of hazard, which can occur simultaneously, the IFRC report said.

COUNTRIES UNPREPARED FOR COVID-19

The report points out that several countries had not invested enough in preparedness at the local level and were not able to leverage the local preparedness that did exist. “Those countries most successful in combating the spread of COVID-19 had built resilient healthcare systems and social safety nets, and they had learned the lessons of previous coronavirus outbreaks like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. These countries still had to adapt and still found aspects of the pandemic difficult, but they had a cushion that others did not, the IFRC report stated.

IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain said that the report underscores the importance of preparedness based on the principles of trust, equity, and local action.

“Trust, because pandemic countermeasures, including vaccines, public health information and isolation measures, will not be accepted unless there is trust. Equity, because pandemics thrive on and aggravate inequity and cannot be controlled until access to services and critical products, including vaccines, is guaranteed in law and available in practice. Local action, because pandemics begin and end in communities, and because governments need to leverage and support local action to build resilience, trust and agile health systems,” he said.

Further he mentioned in the Foreword that the report recommended several practical approaches and programmes that show how these principles can be addressed through community prevention and preparedness, stronger community health systems, protection and support of frontline responders, legal preparedness, and better use of local data.

KEY TO PREPAREDENESS

The IFRC says that preparedness is only effective if founded on trust, equity and local action. The report stresses that COVID-19 pandemic, as well as long experience with other crises, has taught that neglecting these factors has enormous social, economic, physical and mental costs. It further said that at every stage of the disaster management process – most crucially prior to an emergency – it is essential to build trust throughout communities and societies, something the COVID-19 pandemic made abundantly clear. When people trusted public health messages, they were willing to comply with public health measures that sometimes separated them from their families for months at a time in order to slow the spread of the disease and save lives.

In the report, IFRC states that major hazards like disease outbreaks and extreme weather events have extremely inequitable impacts, causing the most harm to those who are already poor, dispossessed or otherwise vulnerable. Further, the organisation stated that it is also corrosive to society if some groups are left to suffer the long-term impacts of a disaster. If a society isn’t helping everyone, it isn’t truly prepared. It is therefore essential to bolster social protection programmes, foster inclusion, and achieve universal health coverage.

They also said that preparedness must be local, because action at the community level is an essential component of any effective hazard response.

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