Public health lessons from the Ebola outbreak

Even as the Ebola outbreak that devastated West Africa last year winds down, healthcare's response to it may have profound long-term implications for the industry, according to a series of articles in The Lancet.

While concerns over the spread of the virus largely focused on rapid detection and diagnosis at a collective level, they also highlighted individual health security, which derives from access to effective, safe healthcare, according to U.K. Health Protection Agency Chairman of the Board David L. Heymann. The Ebola zone's lack of effective care access and infection control, Heymann writes, has intertwined the two.

The outbreak also demonstrated the need to construct robust public health systems to safeguard against such outbreaks, write Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden and coauthors. "We can expect infectious diseases to continue to emerge and re-emerge unpredictably in places where we are not looking--or simply cannot see because of lack of adequate, resilient public health surveillance systems and infrastructure," they write.

Last February, Frieden and coauthors write, the United States partnered with 28 other nations and numerous health organizations to launch the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). More than 36 nations have committed to working toward the GHSA's 12 technical goals, such as a national biosecurity system that protects against deadly pathogens and a medical workforce that includes at least one trained field epidemiologist per 200,000 people. At this year's annual American Hospital Association meeting, Frieden told healthcare leaders that antibiotic resistance will likely be the next major public health threat, and requires similar public health strategies to combat it.

The aging population plays a role in public health needs as well, write Derek Yach, Sania Nishtar and Alex Kalache. For example, musculoskeletal diseases and dementia are both highly age-dependent, and as the population ages, the cost of treating such conditions will increase--for example, dementia care already costs healthcare systems more than $600 billion, and the prevalence of dementia will likely triple by 2050.

To learn more:
- read the articles