New report highlights how African leadership helped beat infectious disease outbreaks before they became epidemics .
Last year, a single outbreak of deadly infectious disease travelled around the world, changing life as we know it. But every year, there are many near misses—outbreaks that are successfully controlled before they become epidemics. Today, Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, released a first-of-its kind interactive digital report highlighting “Epidemics That Didn’t Happen” to show how the trajectory of an outbreak can be altered when a country invests in and prioritizes preparedness combined with swift strategic action.
Epidemics that Didn’t Happen was developed by Resolve to Save Lives to highlight how investing in and prioritizing preparedness and response systems, such as community vaccination and vaccination programs, can save millions of lives and trillions of dollars. As governments contend with the ongoing devastation of COVID-19—and look for lessons for the next pandemic, the report serves as a call to action to global leaders. The world can learn from the experience that African governments have had with infectious diseases including COVID-19, Ebola and monkeypox.
The collaboration between a national rapid response team and local officials to contain the 2019 monkeypox outbreak in Akwa Ibom, highlighted in the report, serves as a lesson to governments and health leaders on how to respond to future health threats more efficiently through the use of rapid response teams and risk planning.
“Thanks to strong collaboration and coordination among local officials and a rapid response team, a monkeypox outbreak in Akwa Ibom was contained within a month,” said Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. “Our case study in the Epidemics That Didn’t Happen report illustrates how strong risk assessment, planning, and risk communication can help to prevent epidemics.”
The case studies described in the new report show that devastating human and economic losses can be avoided with modest investments, improved health systems, and better coordination and communication by determined leaders who put structures in place to find, stop and prevent infectious disease outbreaks before they spread. And although the story of containing COVID-19 has largely been one of failure, countries including Vietnam, Mongolia and Senegal mounted effective responses that reinforce and act upon lessons drawn from earlier outbreaks. The case studies illustrate different aspects of effective public health programs, including:
- Building community trust: How Kenya controlled a deadly anthrax outbreak
- A risk-based response: How protective actions stopped yellow fever in Brazil
- Effective surveillance: How Uganda detected cases of Ebola at the border
- Rapid response teams at the ready: Nigeria’s approach to containing monkeypox
- Good governance matters: How Senegal saved lives through government action and early testing
- Preemptive action: How an early, strategic response in Mongolia averted a COVID-19 nightmare
- COVID-19 Cooperation: Africa’s cohesive, continent-wide response to the pandemic
- Investment in public health saves lives: Vietnam’s COVID-19 response is proof.
Preparedness combined with action really matters, if the world had been prepared to contain and respond to COVID-19, millions of lives could have been saved” said Amanda McClelland, Senior Vice President of Resolve to Save Lives. “But the reality is that this won’t be the last pandemic in our lives—it is really a constant battle that requires political will, scientific innovation and good public health practices to ensure we are safer next time. When countries can prepare and respond appropriately, even if not perfectly, their communities, neighbors and ultimately the world are safer for it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need to work together at the global, regional, country and local levels to build a more resilient response to future health emergencies. It has revealed gaps and weaknesses across high-, middle- and low-income countries. Among the key lessons highlighted from successful responses to public health emergencies:
- Improve governance to prioritize public health emergencies and address equity gaps
- Invest in preparedness response and technical assistance
- Learn from and adapt effective responses from other diseases and other areas
- Prioritize early warning and response systems by adopting the “7-1-7” goal by being able to identify any new suspected outbreak within seven days of emergence, start to investigate the event within one day and report and begin response to it then, and mount an effective response within seven days
“All countries can and must improve their systems for preparedness and the quality of their response,” said Dr. Emmanuel Agogo, Nigeria Country Representative at Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. “The actions highlighted in the report save lives and can fundamentally alter the trajectory of future outbreaks and pandemics.”
The case studies were developed with support from health ministries and global health organizations including, Kenya Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Infectious Diseases Institute, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Health, Pan American Health Organization and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
About Resolve to Save Lives
Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global health organization Vital Strategies, focuses on preventing deaths from cardiovascular disease and preventing epidemics. It is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.