World 'underprepared' to handle disease outbreaks

World health leaders are still “grossly underprepared” to handle infectious disease outbreaks, and a group of experts warn in a new study that such outbreaks are likely to become more common in the coming years.

The researchers, who published their findings in The BMJ, examined seven major reports released after the Ebola outbreak and laid out key problems and recommendations. The goal, according to the study team, is to clarify proposed reforms that differed between these reports and also identify areas of progress and areas that still need work.

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Their analysis indicates that a faster and more coordinated response is necessary for future outbreaks, and that most reports shared three areas for improvement: improved compliance with International Health Regulations, better research on outbreaks, and reforms for the World Health Organization and international response systems.

"We found remarkable consensus on what went wrong with the Ebola response and what we need to do to address the deficiencies. Yet not nearly enough has been done," the authors wrote. "Ebola, and more recently Zika and yellow fever, have demonstrated that we do not yet have a reliable or robust global system for preventing, detecting, and responding to disease outbreaks."

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Efforts have been made to address these deficiencies, according to the study, but the researchers conclude that more work is needed, For instance, they note that reforms have taken place at the WHO, but they focus generally on operational issues without tackling deeper problems within the organization.

They call on the global health community to mobilize better “monitoring and accountability mechanisms” to ensure that the world is prepared for its next outbreak. One of the issues that hampered the response to the Zika outbreak in the U.S was a struggle over funding for preventive measures and vaccine development.