The deadly Ebola virus that killed over 8,600 people in three West African countries and infected many more is only just beginning to wane. Nevertheless, health authorities including the World Health Organnization are already beginning to prepare for the next great pandemic. At the top of the suspect list are deadly strains of the flu and drug-resistant superbugs.
"Viruses do not need visas to get across borders," said Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization at a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. With our growing cities and ease of international travel, infectious diseases will have an even easier time spreading in the future.
Reuters' Ben Hirschler reports:
Being prepared for such future threats requires not only improving healthcare systems in the developing world, from city hospitals to village clinics, but also more forward thinking by scientists and drug companies...
One other question that needs answering is whether it is time to switch the focus from individual diseases -- such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria -- to improving countries' healthcare systems as a whole.
There is little doubt that Ebola would not have taken hold on the scale it did in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea if the health systems in those countries had been stronger.
The first doses of a fast-tracked Ebola vaccine are expected to arrive in West Africa on Friday, according to a spokesperson at GlaxoSmithKline. Tests will begin in Monrovia, Liberia, with an initial trial of almost 30,000.
"Until there is a very last case," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "[an epidemic] is not over until it is over."