Scientists and health authorities around the world have been considering the implications of the Ebola outbreak, and the future of global health
Many public health experts have suggested that the medical community was too slow to deliver new treatments during the Ebola epidemic, and now that the outbreak is – thankfully – on the wane, it will be impossible to conduct large-scale clinical trials, so more rapid research will be essential in the future to avoid a repeat of the deadly outbreak. “Everyone is delighted that we are going to no cases,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), “but research and development is too late by a factor of months. We need to see what can be done in order to have the products more rapidly available for another outbreak.” WHO is currently working to construct a framework under which it can identify major pathogens that need to be bumped to the top of the list in terms of fast, advanced research, calculating how much work will need to be done to prepare diagnostic procedures, vaccines and treatments for large-scale testing during future outbreaks. “We have said that we need to conduct trials in this [recent] outbreak,” said Trudie Lang, a global health researcher at the UK’s Oxford University, “and we’ve largely failed, and that’s desperately disappointing.”
Also highlighted as an area of concern are global health security procedures, although many health professionals are frustrated by a lack of political commitment – even after the horrors seen during the Ebola outbreak, there are no guarantees that health security is going to shoot to the top of the global political agenda. David Heyman, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House, who is one of the lead authors of a review of global health security in medical journal The Lancet, said: “The Ebola epidemic has clearly illustrated the importance of protecting societies from infectious disease threats that spread across national borders. Throughout history, the approach to threats like this has been to focus on rapid detection of outbreaks and rapid response – this has been the commonly understood conceptualisation of health security for centuries.
The Ebola epidemic has clearly illustrated the importance of protecting societies from infectious disease threats that spread across national borders
But the crisis has also highlighted a second, equally important but less appreciated aspect of global health security – ensuring personal access to health services and products around the world. This needs to be better recognised as part of the scope of global health security.” The review, which consists of various essays by global health experts, suggests that the Ebola crisis has highlighted WHO’s shortcomings, and thrown years of political neglect of the importance of global health security into sharp relief. Improving access to drugs, diagnostic procedures and vaccines is essential, the review says, and must be backed up by political will, and not left to market forces.