One year of Covid: Are we ready for the next pandemic?

23 Mar 2021

Written By Ruth Neale, Programme Manager, Longitude Prize

A major review of the UK’s foreign policy published last week says that another pandemic remains a “realistic possibility” before 2030. It warns that population growth coupled with the loss of natural habitat will continue to increase interaction between humans and animals and create the conditions for diseases to jump from one species to another. As a community of people working in the field of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), we know all too well of the deep interconnections that exist between animal and human health and well-being.

Worryingly, however, the report also anticipates that, based on current trends, global deaths related to AMR will rise from 700,000 to 20 million per year by 2050. This is a sobering analysis of what might be ahead of us but – rather than catapult us into panic or despair – we really must take stock of this analysis and ramp up the measures that enable us to be better prepared for the next public health emergency.

AMR may not ever rampage across the world at the scale and speed that Covid-19 did but we are already in crisis. In too many parts of the world, antibiotics of “last resort” are losing touch with that very title and peoples’ lives – and those of their families and loved ones – are being transformed. Dame Sally Davies put it perfectly when she used the metaphor:

“Covid’s a lobster dropped into boiling water, making a lot of noise as it expires, whereas AMR is a lobster put into cold water, heating up slowly, not making any noise.”

For those working in AMR, we know the water is already HOT. The foundations of modern medicine as we know it are in question and soon regular, run of the mill treatments – from cancer care to childbirth – will be in question.

As the UK pauses to remember going into national lockdown one year ago today in response to Covid-19, here are some reminders of what needs to happen with the ever increasing threat of AMR:

  • We need to see innovation in rapid point-of-care diagnostics so that infections are quickly diagnosed and treated effectively from the outset so clinicians know what they are dealing with;
  • We need a transformation in how medical innovation – from antibiotics to therapeutics and diagnostics – are funded and brought to the global marketplace, not just high-income countries;
  • We need to actively help start-ups and the product developers leading the charge to overcome the obstacles they face, from navigating the regulatory landscape of certain markets to understand how products are validated by national health and care decision-makers;
  • We need to quickly absorb what’s worked in the Covid-19 response – for example, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency broke from tradition and used a rolling review process in order to speed up the approval timeline of potential vaccines;
  • We need to double-down on commitments to stewardship best practice and education, tailoring policies and processes to the specific needs of the context, and;
  • Last but not least, we need to amplify the voices of people already on the frontlines of this battle: the patients and clinicians who have been sounding the alarm-bells and calling for aircover.

What else do you think needs to happen? Share your thoughts on Twitter @longitudeprize.