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EcoHealth Alliance Analysis: Six Steps To Strengthen U.S. Pandemic Resilience

NEW YORK – January 21, 2021 – In a new paper published Thursday in the journal Health Affairs, experts lay out six steps to address vulnerabilities laid bare by the United States’ response to COVID-19 and to better prepare for future threats of new and emerging diseases. EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, is proud to provide its expertise in developing these six steps, which consist of policy options aimed at creating structural change at the national level.

"By any metric, U.S. response to COVID-19 has lagged behind most other nations worldwide. That has to change," EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak said. Dr. Daszak has spent several decades studying new and emerging diseases and has advised such agencies as the World Health Organization (WHO); the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM); and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). "Together we recommend these six suggestions be seriously considered by the new Administration. While COVID-19 remains the priority, it will not be the last virus to threaten our stability and our lives. The next time, we have no excuse to be so sorely unprepared."

The six recommendations put forth by the paper’s authors: Dr. Daszak; Dr. Gerald T. Keusch, Boston University; Dr. Alexandra L. Phelan, Georgetown University; Dr. Christine K. Johnson, University of California–Davis; and Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, University of Minnesota. They are as follows:

  • The formation of a commission to review the U.S.’ response to COVID-19. A multi-disciplinary, bipartisan commission must review short- and long-term failings of the U.S. government’s response to COVID-19. This commission should also issue recommendations targeted at fixing the failings identified.
  • Elevate pandemic preparedness to the National Security Council. The Trump administration vacated the National Security Council position responsible for global health security and biodefense just one year before the first cases of COVID-19; this decision should be reversed immediately. The group also recommends Congressional action to guarantee funding to restore effective public health capacity at federal, state, and local levels.
  • Renew U.S. commitment to the WHO. The group recommends that, in addition to meeting its financial commitments to the WHO, the U.S. actively engage with the WHO to support and improve its capacity to address pandemic threats before they become global concerns.
  • Elevate science in its role to direct policy on preparedness and response. Vaccine hesitancy varies among many demographic groups and the HHS should work with communities to address concerns and counter misinformation. Additionally, the Department of Education should be tasked with ensuring support for STEM programs, with a particular emphasis on reaching underserved communities and groups.
  • Guarantee funding for agencies working to protect against pandemic threats. Weeks after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S., the president requested cutting $3 billion from the National Institutes of Health’s budget. In the past four years, the president has also suggested significant cuts to the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Without adequate budget, agencies like these cannot afford to fund forward-thinking research–be it vaccine development or biosurveillance–that could be instrumental in stamping out the next pandemic threats.
  • Create a White House Director of Pandemic Response. U.S. public health infrastructure remains quite siloed, despite ample evidence that the health of environments, animals, and humans is connected in myriad ways. A White House Director of Pandemic Response could institutionalize One Health solutions and coordinate collaborations between different agencies tasked with environmental, animal, and human health protection.

The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world and, as such, its priorities stated either directly or implicitly through budgetary commitments reach far beyond its own borders. The U.S. has previously stood as a global leader in pandemic preparedness. In fact, in December 2019, just a month before the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, U.S. scientists and government officials helped run a pandemic preparedness exercise in South Korea which led to the country fast-tracking coronavirus diagnostic technology. While the U.S. has maintained a weekly average test positivity rate over 7 percent since last October, Korea’s case positivity rate has not risen above 4 percent since March 2020.

Disease outbreaks that threaten the global population are traditionally thought of as a once-in-a-generation occurrence. However, the WHO has assigned Public Health Emergency of International Concern status to six individual outbreaks since 2009.

"The science is clear: outbreaks of zoonotic viruses are increasing in frequency at alarming rates," Dr. Daszak said.

These recommendations come as just one of a cluster of papers published by Health Affairs as part of the National Academy of Medicine’s Vital Directions for Health and Health Care: Priorities for 2021 Initiative. Several papers were published Thursday addressing concerns from optimizing health and wellbeing for women and children to the rising cost of healthcare. Each can be reviewed here.

About EcoHealth Alliance:
Building on 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is the premier nonprofit organization committed to a One Health approach to track the migration of deadly viruses from animals into humans. EcoHealth Alliance research has led to major breakthroughs on the origins and spread of new and emerging diseases like Ebola, SARS, MERS, Nipah virus, and, now, SARS-CoV-2. EcoHealth Alliance works globally in hotspot regions where the threat of outbreaks is highest. Through innovations in research, training, capacity building, and policy initiatives, we develop tools and interventions to prevent pandemics and promote conservation.
Press contact: Robert Kessler, (212) 380-4469 or kessler@ecohealthalliance.org.

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