‘The next big one must be prevented’: The lessons the world can learn from epidemics that were contained

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage, a new report urges the world not to allow itself to be taken down this road again.

The report, called Epidemics That Didn’t Happen, makes the case for improved pandemic preparedness by highlighting infectious diseases outbreaks that the world was able to contain.

“We’re very focused, as we should be, on Covid now, but the fact is that many epidemics are prevented and more could be prevented, and the next big one must be prevented,” said Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a program that works to prevent epidemics and which published the report. “Preparedness works. The next pandemic threat is inevitable, but the next pandemic isn’t.”


The report aims to take advantage of the current context, where the global failure to successfully manage the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus provides daily and stark evidence of why containment is the better and cheaper option. Containment happens through preparedness, which several case studies in the report explain.

If ever there was a teachable moment for the importance of this work, it’s now, Frieden suggested.


Ironically, work on the report predates the pandemic. In 2019, Resolve, which is part of the global not-for-profit organization Vital Strategies, held a worldwide competition, asking for suggestions of events that underscore how preparedness for and quick action in the face of disease outbreaks averted disaster.

They settled on nine case studies, including a rapidly contained outbreak of deadly anthrax among livestock in Kenya and Uganda’s success at containing imported Ebola cases during the prolonged North Kivu and Ituri outbreak on the northeastern border of its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That outbreak, which began in 2018, took nearly two years to get under control, because of violence and distrust of authorities in DRC.  Though the risk of cross-border transmission was real, a strong response by Ugandan health authorities kept the cases to single digits when it did occur.

“This was staying prepared for months on end,” Frieden said of the country’s success.

Though the report was started before the pandemic, a number of Covid-related case studies are included in the report, including a chapter on Vietnam’s success in minimizing Covid-19’s impact on that country.

Frieden is hopeful that having experienced this pandemic, countries will see the benefits of investing in programs aimed at preventing future such disruption.

“The bottom line is that preparedness and response systems can save millions of lives and trillions of dollars, but we need to invest. We need to invest money, we need to invest in technical support, we need to invest in strengthening institutions,” he told STAT. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the world a safer place.”

Source: STAT