What can be done to prevent global epidemics such as coronavirus? (IV-X places) a***y@gmail.com

Prior to analysing the possible responses to global
epidemics such as the current coronavirus, one must first answer the
question: what is a global epidemic? Also known as a pandemic, a
global epidemic involves the spread of a disease across several
continents, with the number of infected people rising rapidly. Both of
these features characterise the current pandemic of the coronavirus.
Originating in Wuhan, China, the virus has had a prominent impact
worldwide, with the number of confirmed cases and deaths increasing
rapidly.

However, this is not the first global outbreak of the century. In
2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) affected more than 8000
people, killing 10% of the confirmed cases. Apart from the global
alarm caused by the disease, major economic damage was inflicted,
particularly in Asia. In 2014, the Ebola epidemic of critically
affected the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra
Leone, before spreading to six other countries in three continents,
causing a global wave of fear. Other examples include the influenza
virus, H1N1; the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012; and
the Zika virus of Brazil in 2015. Therefore, one can observe a clear
pattern of global pandemics, and despite various methods undertaken by
international organisations, new outbreaks continue to emerge,
prompting the question: how can we improve our management of such
epidemics?

Firstly, strengthening health systems is essential during an epidemic.
Remarkable advancement has been made in the field of medicine,
allowing many infections to be prevented and treated. This progress in
public health includes the development of vaccinations, particularly
for young children and infants. Antivirals were also discovered and
are used effectively against HIV. However, regardless of the method of
treatment used, health services can only be beneficial if they are
under the responsibility of an experienced and committed faculty. This
faculty, which includes health personnel and frontline workers, must
also be protected. During an epidemic, this workforce is constantly in
contact with infected individuals and communities, tending to patients
at clinics, hospitals and emergency health centres. Hence, they are
highly prone to being infected through human-to-human transmission, a
primary cause of the rapid spread of a pandemic. Therefore, it is
imperative that they are protected, both for the safety of themselves,
and the infected communities they have committed themselves to
treating. Such protection can be done by well-researched planning,
preparation, as well as the provision of necessary medical equipment.

Improving the health system also includes addressing the problem of
declining human resources. The major issue regarding frontline workers
is that there is not a sufficient amount of them. However, this crisis
is extended to the entire health personnel. This paucity of medical
faculty is a global phenomenon but is highly prevalent in countries
characterised by a lack of economic development, where epidemics are
most likely to arise. However, this scarcity is not only in terms of
quantity, but quality, as well. Workforces are neither sufficiently
skilled, nor easily accessible. While this crisis is much more
difficult and tedious to find an immediate solution to, it can be
worked towards by organising training centres for medical personnel
and community health workers, while encouraging others to volunteer,
in order to reach sufficient numbers required to improve the health
system. Importance should also be given to the accessibility of
medical services by, for example, establishing government-run health
clinics in rural areas.

Secondly, community engagement is essential during epidemics. Merely
instructing people and giving them health advice is not enough.
Rather, engaging with them is more fruitful. It involves addressing
the social and political aspects of a rapidly spreading pandemic. A
major step in community engagement is beginning a conversation between
societies and medical faculty to understand the opinions of both
parties. This should be done in order to identify patterns of social
interaction, and how such patterns contribute to the rate of
transmission. This mutualistic understanding of each other’s
perceptions must also be used to build trust and arrive at solutions
to reduce and/or prevent transmission. However, tangible methods to
implement such solutions must also be adopted. Therefore, these
communities should be empowered and enhanced. This can be done by the
direct provision of necessary medical equipment to effectuate measures
which can reduce the rate of transmission and treat the infection.
Such apparatus can be supplied by either the government or subsidised
health centres. Community engagement can also prove to be beneficial
in the long-term future of an affected region, as it helps build
resilience and awareness about what methods and solutions to apply in
the event of another pandemic.

Finally, risk communication is of essence when responding to
outbreaks. The term “risk communication” refers to the exchange of
real-time information and opinions by qualified officials and experts
regarding threats to one’s health. When executed efficiently, it can
help countries to maintain a state of political, economic and social
stability, and trains them to respond effectively in an event of an
emergency. This form of communication will thrive in a dialogue based
on trust, which can be built by ensuring the credibility and
accountability of those communicating with individuals and societies.
Services should be effective, accessible and functioning. In an age
where social media is a popular method to spread information rapidly
to a large audience, it should be used to engage the public, initiate
communication, regulate and respond to false news, and create general
awareness.

In conclusion, despite having some common characteristics, every
pandemic is unique, and the methods employed to find an effective
solution must be adapted to the situation surrounding the outbreak.
However, there are basic health measures that can be extended to any
global epidemic. National strategies and policies must be structured,
organised and coordinated. It is generally accepted that health begins
with health workers, and therefore, their empowerment is essential.
Their voices and responsibilities have a prominent role in the
development and adoption of medical policies. In addition, engagement
between this health workforce and surrounding communities should be
the foundation of the response to a global epidemic.

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