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Aetna International

Pandemic: Controlling infectious diseases before they spread

Sep 22 2017
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Over 11,300 people died from the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014. As the virus rapidly spread from country to country, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak to be an international emergency. Researchers and doctors realized the challenges of preventing infectious disease from spreading far and wide. Although the outbreak revealed the world’s lack of preparedness, the learnings can be used to develop measures to contain and manage the next pandemic.

The cover of Aetna International's opinion paper on pandemic infectious diseases.

Aetna International believes governments and agencies must redouble their efforts to invest in well-performing health systems, strengthen disease surveillance and engage in local communities.

“It takes just a single crisis — an epidemic, a natural disaster or even the death of a key physician who falls victim to disease — to make whole health care systems and economies come crashing to the ground,” says Dr. Lori Stetz, a senior medical director at Aetna International. “To have any hope of containing future outbreaks, it’s essential to understand the nature and transmission pathways of infectious diseases and involve local communities in detection, prevention and communication efforts. The region has made significant strides, but more vital action is needed.”

In a July 2017 opinion paper called, “Pandemic: Controlling infectious diseases before they spread,” three officials at Aetna International write that the world must come together to invest in solutions that benefit everyone.

The opinion paper was written by Stetz; Dr. Stella George, senior medical director at Aetna International; and Dr. Mitesh Patel, medical director at Aetna International.

The authors believe that there are a number of critical steps needed to address global pandemic vulnerability.

The opinion paper highlights that a better understanding of pathogens – how long they live for and how they’re transmitted – and stronger disease surveillance is needed to prevent the spread of a pandemic.

In addition, the opinion paper highlights the WHO’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), which is a part of the agency’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. GPHIN analyzes online news reports from 30,000 sources in nine languages to find disease outbreaks. In 2003, it was alerted to the SARS outbreak. In 2012, it was the first agency to report on MERS-CoV after identifying eight cases in Jordan of an unknown respiratory illness.

The authors of the opinion paper examined the health systems around the world and found “many countries with overburdened health care systems are witnessing and outmigration of workers to high income countries, where they can earn more money and enjoy better working conditions. This leads to shortages in service capacity and a loss of expertise in medical schools,” the authors wrote.

Moreover, local communities should be engaged in any decisions made during an outbreak, or there could be unintended consequences.

During the Ebola outbreak, for example, Liberia required all corpses to be cremated to prevent the spread of disease. This had societal and cultural impacts and created a “black market for funeral services,” the opinion paper states.

“Regardless of the setting, it’s critically important to take steps to respect the concerns of people who are affected and to involve people on the ground at every step of the way,” the authors wrote.

Ensuring health systems are working well, better disease surveillance and engaging with the local community are important to prepare for the next pandemic, which Aetna International believes will threaten states around the globe.

“It would be a mistake to think border controls can keep pathogens at bay or that any country alone can successfully deal with a pandemic,” the authors wrote. “Instead, the world community must come together to invest in solutions that benefit all.”