Three steps can be taken by policymakers to ensure the world is better prepared for the next global health crisis, a health expert told CNBC Monday.
The new strain of coronavirus, known as COVID-19, was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. More than 1.2 million people around the world have since been infected with the virus, which has so far led to 70,590 deaths globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Speaking to CNBC’s “Street Signs,” Rajeev Venkayya, former special assistant to the U.S. president for biodefense and president of the vaccine business unit at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, said there were three important moves that policymakers could make to ensure they were better prepared for any future pandemics.
Understanding inter-species transmission
The new coronavirus is thought to have originated in a wildlife market in Wuhan, although Chinese officials have claimed the outbreak may not have begun in China.
In late January, Chinese authorities announced a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals in wet markets, supermarkets, restaurants and e-commerce platforms — but experts and wildlife organizations have called for a permanent ban to help prevent future pandemics.
Venkayya told CNBC that the first thing that needed to be worked on was our understanding of viruses circulating within the animal population.
“We haven’t really been paying attention to (this) but (they) are out there and have the potential to jump over from animals into the human population,” he explained. “We call that surveillance, and we have some surveillance activities going on around the world, but we need to make those much better.”
Improve response strategies
Another area that needed improvement was government response plans, according to Venkayya.
“We know that whenever you have something like this, a lot of people are going to get sick very, very quickly, and as we’re seeing in different parts of the world, the illnesses can come in waves,” he told CNBC.
“You’ve seen in the graphs that there are peaks in the demand on health care capacity, (which) in many cases overstretch and break the health-care system. We need to do a very effective job not just at flattening the curve but to lower the difference between the peak demand and the supply that’s available.”
One way this could be done was by increasing the supply of products that health-care systems had struggled to source amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“That involves very smart planning for large numbers of sick people in a community, where you incorporate into your plans the desire to use gymnasiums, hotels, and alternate facilities,” Venkayya said. “But facilities aren’t enough — you also need people — and as we’re seeing around the world, retired physicians and nurses are being brought in, medical students are graduating early so we can expand the army of health-care workers.”
“So I would say that kind of preparedness for large numbers of people being ill is incredibly important,” he added.
Venkayya also said policymakers needed to approach pandemic response strategies “as a global community.”
“There are places in the world that are really suffering in terms of their access to the medical resources they need, whereas in other parts of the world the wave hasn’t hit them yet, or it’s already passed through their communities,” he said. “We need to have the free flow, the sharing of people and resources and technologies, (and) tools for the communities that are the hardest hit to address the problem in that moment.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also told CNBC on Wednesday that coordinated efforts were needed to tackle the “common invisible enemy” of COVID-19.
Some analysts have been critical of world leaders for failing to take cooperative action to mitigate the impact of the outbreak.
Speaking to CNBC in March, former Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan said global co-ordination and political leadership had been absent throughout the current crisis, while analysts have warned that EU tensions being brought to the fore amid the pandemic could lead to a breakdown of the euro zone.
Meanwhile, Mark Malloch-Brown, senior advisor at Eurasia Group, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday that the coronavirus crisis still lacked a globally spearheaded strategy.
“The next point (to watch) will be in two weeks’ time at the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank — will world leaders be able to come together with a plausible, impressive package to tackle this globally?” he asked. “I think the omens are very mixed whether they will — there’s an awful lot of global leaders that are still acting very selfishly and very nationally.”