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UN calls for preventive measures against future pandemics

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday, December 27, 2020 urged the world to start thinking about the next pandemic as it strives to recover from the current one.

Antonio Guterres
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General

In a message to mark the maiden International Epidemic Preparedness Day, Guterres stressed the need for countries to strengthen their disease prevention capacities to prevent another pandemic.

“With COVID-19 having now killed more than 1.7 million people, devastated economies, upended societies and exposed the world’s vulnerabilities in the starkest ways, the value of health emergency preparedness has hit home like never before.

“Unfortunately, it is easy to imagine a virus just as infectious but even more lethal. We can already draw many lessons from the experiences of the past year.

“Preparedness is a sound investment, costing far less than emergency expenditures.

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“Societies need stronger health systems, including universal health coverage,” he said.

Guterres called for more social protection for people, timely support for communities on the frontlines and more effective technical cooperation by countries.

Noting that most new human infectious diseases are from animals, the Secretary General advocated greater attention to the “encroachment of people and livestock into animal habitats.”

“Across this work, science must be our guide.  Solidarity and coordination are crucial, within and among countries; no one is safe unless all of us are safe.

“The UN system, including the World Health Organisation, is strongly committed to supporting governments and all partners in strengthening epidemic preparedness as a crucial part of our broader work to build a healthier world and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.

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In a similar message, the President of the General Assembly, Amb. Volkan Bozkir, said the COVID-19 pandemic must serve as the final warning against the next one.

“This is not the first time the world has been threatened by an infectious disease.

“Together we have faced many, including avian influenza, Ebola, malaria, MERS, SARS, swine influenza, tuberculosis and Zika.

“Global pandemics are also not new. Over a century ago, the 1918 influenza pandemic, also known as the ‘Spanish flu’, infected one third of all humanity.

“Just as our predecessors were not ready in 1918, neither were we in 2020.

“In spite much socio-economic and scientific progress, the lessons of the past remained unlearned,” he said.

Bozkir said the world could not afford to be complacent and must learn from its past mistakes.

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He urged leaders and countries to trust science and support the establishment of early warning mechanisms, while also calling for global solidarity.

“And we will prepare as we have never prepared before, so that epidemics and pandemics can no longer cause the kind of suffering we have seen across the globe this year.

“We have the tools to prevent epidemics and ultimately pandemics.

“The UN system, and particularly the WHO, is well placed to raise awareness, foster information-sharing and coordinate multilateral responses,” he added.

The International Epidemic Preparedness Day was proclaimed on Dec. 8 by the General Assembly to remind the world of the need for preventive measures against infectious diseases.

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