Lessons for the future: Here is how South Africa can prepare for the next pandemic

Source: Tim Tucker, Daily Maverick, 9 February 2021, photo credit: Canadian Underwriter

The Covid-19 pandemic did not come as a surprise to infectious disease experts, many of whom had predicted such an event for decades. It might sound premature, but we need to begin preparing for future pandemics now. The next one might occur in a year’s time – or in 20 years’ time. But it’s coming.

The Covid-19 virus has, by February 2021, infected more than 100 million people globally. More than two million have died from the disease. However, it’s likely that this number is far higher. With a global average mortality of about 2%, the tragedy is incalculable. 

But what if the “first” SARS from 2003 emerges again – with its 8% mortality? Or the more limited epidemic of MERS from 2012 – with its 34% mortality? These two viruses are still out there in their respective animal hosts, and there are many millions of other animal viruses with the potential to jump from their host species to humans. 

The planet was woefully underprepared for Covid-19. Even wealthy countries have shown their poor levels of preparedness. However, the differences between the rich and poor – those who are privileged versus those who are vulnerable – have laid bare the challenges of an equitable global response.

To better prepare for future epidemics, South Africa needs to establish a high-level, independent panel to review the country’s response to Covid-19 and recommend interventions. 

The preparedness requirements listed below are by nature long-term. They include systemic and structural elements that need decades to fully establish, and thus require long-term vision and funding.  The panel should consider the myriad issues that face the nation and the region when confronting a pandemic. The items listed below are not meant to be exhaustive, but are simply some of the long-term interventions that may be required to enable a better response to the next epidemic.
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The South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO) coordinates industry interventions and collaboratively manages risks in the value chain to enable the sustainability and profitability of pork producers in South Africa.