The World Health Organization this week released a report on the global readiness to face epidemics — a survey of 179 countries asking questions about measures to deal with a highly contagious and virulent disease.
Some troubling findings: Ninety-one countries have insufficient data to know if their basic vaccines, diagnostics and response plans are up to date.
And 83 percent of the countries surveyed cannot guarantee their supplies of vaccines when needed, while 91 percent have not established bioterrorism plans for public health employees.
The report, in its third installment, “The Global Health Security Agenda,” looks at how countries have prepared against attacks or pandemics — how prepared they are to deal with a severe illness that threatens millions.
Some goals of the global review include:
* Raising the countries’ confidence in their ability to address a major disease.
* Unraveling the reasons that countries reported weak preparedness to cover themselves.
* Forecasting how far ahead of time countries will be able to respond to a pandemic.
The report, which is intended to inform member countries of the United Nations and other international organizations, asks how prepared they are to respond to a pandemic.
A general breakdown of countries’ response plan readiness, according to the study, are:
35 percent have no reported plans.
22 percent have non-existent plans
22 percent have no plans.
27 percent have plans in place but no local contingency plans.
16 percent have plans but no local contingency plans.
21 percent have plans in place but do not have local contingency plans.
19 percent have plans in place but do not have local contingency plans.
10 percent have plans in place but do not have local contingency plans.
9 percent have plans in place but do not have local contingency plans.
7 percent have plans in place but do not have local contingency plans.
So far, these surveys are the global assessment of risk and preparedness for pandemics.
Human diseases, like the next flu epidemic, will always come in unpredictable forms and unfathomable numbers. They are different from non-microbial agent, or drug-resistant, threats to public health like the Ebola virus.
Overall, the report found, countries cannot avoid numerous threats of disease.
“This report documents the hard work many countries are doing, despite minimal health workforce, limited budgets and weak organizational processes and capacities,” said Dr. Peter Salama, director of emergency preparedness and response at the WHO.
The report calls on world leaders to take action on the WHO Global Health Security Agenda and propose changes to more fully meet the risks posed by these events.
“What we have uncovered in this global assessment is that these are huge challenges and that the world has not fully leveraged the incredible resources, skills and work happening across the planet,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, the assistant director-general for health systems and innovation at the WHO.
The report stresses that the preparation for epidemic is merely the first step in a global effort to protect populations and countries against possible outbreaks.
“The next task is to build back-up plans,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “Those contingency plans are probably not as important as the contingency plans for fortifying immunity in populations to the disease.”
Ultimately, “we need to change the mindset of how we prepare for pandemics,” Dr. Kieny said. “It is the same thing we would need for earthquakes and climate change. We don’t want to put up all of these barriers to prepare for everything.”