The COVID-19 pandemic may be one of the deadliest viral outbreaks experienced by mankind in more than a century. It has caused great devastation across the globe affecting millions of individuals even in the most advanced countries with the best healthcare infrastructure and services proving the inadequacies of these facilities to tackle pandemics of such a dimension and intensity.
Although it is not exactly possible to predict when such a pandemic may reappear in future, based on latest methods of statistical and mathematical modelling, many scientists have already suggested that pandemics of even higher magnitude than COVID-10 may be inevitable at some time in future, if not soon. It is also predicted that such a disease can start anywhere in the world particularly where animals and humans are in close proximity, as our experiences with the past events have shown that pandemics most often originate when a pathogen spills over from an animal reservoir to human beings which have never been infected before with that pathogen. The large influenza pandemic in 1918 is a major historical point of reference which initially emerged in southern China, and since then this area was the focus of attention as a probable source of novel strains of the influenza virus in future. However, the H1N1, the so-called ‘swine flu’ pandemic, that occurred in 2009 is thought to have originated in Mexico and/or the southern US rather than in China.
Respiratory viral infections have been regarded as one of the highest risks for developing into an epidemic or pandemic with the possibility of human-to-human spread. The influenza virus being an unstable virus easily mutates into a form which can spread quickly in humans and therefore it is regarded as one of the most probable causes of a future pandemic. The principal causes of climate change like deforestation, urbanization and increasing environmental pollution can also increase the risk of pandemics occurring. These factors can influence on the process of global warming, and consequently on the rate of mutations occurring in unstable viral pathogens and can increase the likelihood of mutant strains of pathogens being transferred from animal to human. Hence, our preparedness for prevention of a future pandemic needs to focus on maintenance of the ecosystem and animal health as much as in that of human health.
A recent study has estimated that the annual probability of occurrence of a COVID-19 like pandemic in any given year is between 2.5-3.3 % and this means a 47-57 percent chance of appearance of another global pandemic of the same scale again in the next 25 years. This highlights the importance of strengthening our preparedness for facing the unavoidable challenges that may be posed by such a pandemic in future.
A metabiota-based analysis of the geographical distribution of spill-over events between animals and human related to coronaviruses, filoviruses, and other non-influenza risks have revealed that the low-income countries are disproportionately affected by infectious disease spill-over events, and hence they are at a higher risk for spill-over events, although less equipped to respond to the same. It’s really a matter of great concern which requires attention of the global community in order to further strengthen mutual cooperation so that the countries with poor health infrastructure may obtain the needed support from the developed countries to strengthen their ability to fight such spill-over events at its first appearance as the first line defence against a future pandemic.
As has been rightly pointed out by Smitham and Glassman (2021), ‘the next pandemic could hit us tomorrow, and the best way to prepare is to build up public health infrastructure, surveillance, reliable data, and medical countermeasure capacity for every day, especially in the most vulnerable countries.’
Heymann, D.; Ross, E. and Wallace, J. (2022). The next pandemic – when could it be? https://www.chathamhouse.org/2022/02/next-pandemic-when-could-it-be (Accessed on 8th March 2023).
Penn, M. (2021). Statistics say large pandemics are more likely than we thought. Duke Global Health Institute. https://globalhealth.duke.edu/news/statistics-say-large-pandemics-are-more-likely-we-thought (Accessed on 8th March 2023).
Smitham, E. and Glassman, A. (2021). The next pandemic could come soon and be deadlier. Centre for Global Development, https://www.cgdev.org/blog/the-next-pandemic-could-come-soon-and-be-deadlier (Accessed on 8th March 2023).
WHO (2022). Imagining the future of pandemics and epidemics: a 2022 perspective, Geneva: World Health Organization; 2022. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.