Health leaders from around the world will be requesting the creation of a special rapid response unit for infectious disease outbreaks at the 41st G7 Summit being held this weekend in Germany. The reason for this stems from last year’s outbreak of the Ebola virus that caught the world by surprise as it rapidly spread through Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and neighbouring West African countries.
Discoverer of Ebola, Peter Priot, foresees a rapid response unit of about 100 people who would work within the World Health Organization in Geneva with rapid access to upwards of 10,000 scientists worldwide. These experts would range from experts in infectious diseases, virologists and epidemiologists who would be mandated to travel immediately to the sources of outbreak to ensure that the disease is put under control as quickly as possible.
Although having this unit would cost upwards of $100-200 million, when you consider that between the costs of fighting Ebola and the economic losses of the affected countries, the World Bank estimates that the unpreparedness of the International community resulted in the loss of about $500 million.
With the increase of globalization and trade, it is inevitable that future epidemics are inevitable. And it is difficult to prevent many of them, like Ebola. However, I would argue that this team could become potentially useful in the current conversations occurring regarding parents not vaccinating their children. While it is impossible to prevent new diseases that can turn into epidemics, it is possible to prevent the re-emergence of diseases that had previously been almost eradicated.
My question to the international community is, why has it taken so long to decide to try and form a unit like this? Epidemics have been occurring since the beginning of time and humanity has never been prepared for it. With the increase of globalization and the ease at which people can travel around the world, it would have made sense years ago to have created a unit like this. The fact that it took a year of Ebola to create action is rather unfortunate in a world that seems to always try to be one step ahead of everything that could massively disrupt human life.
Hopefully the G7 agrees to the creation of the rapid response unit. Additionally, I would hope that they would want to have experts on hand who can assist in managing many of the cultural differences of affected areas. As was exhibited through the Ebola crisis, cultural differences can cause challenges to occur between communities facing epidemics and outside aid. This is also critical to remember, as epidemics could occur at anytime, anywhere, and it is important that any response unit is equipped to fully handle the situations no matter where they occur.