By David Saunders, Health Editor | UPDATED: 08:28, 26 June 2020
A new report published Monday (23rd September 2019) by the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC-UK), the UK’s specialist think tank on the impact of longevity on society, urges policymakers across the world to do more to adequately prepare for the growing risk of future pandemics.
2018/19 marked the centenary of the deadly Spanish flu pandemic, which infected a third of the world’s population at the time and killed between 50-100 million people worldwide. While better access to clean water, improved hygiene, a reduction of the number of people in absolute poverty, and investment in preventative health measures have led to significant reduction in the number of deaths from infectious disease, experts argue that there is no room for complacency.
Past decades have seen a million deaths from Asian flu in the 1950s, around 500,000 people infected by the 1968 Hong Kong flu, and most recently 150,000 and 500,000 deaths caused by the 2009 global H1N1 pandemic.
A number of global developments are currently increasing the likelihood of future outbreaks, including complacency around vaccination uptake, lack of awareness of the risks of infectious disease, anti-microbial resistance, climate change and global population migration.
Moreover, in an ageing society, more of us are likely to be susceptible to infectious disease and experience complications resulting from disease. For instance, within one week of contracting the flu, the incidence rate for stroke and heart attack is significantly heightened.
This not only has social and welfare implications, but also economic ones. The impact of vaccine-preventable diseases alone is estimated to account for $9 billion of annual health and care costs in the US.
However, despite governments across the world publicly committing to a greater focus on prevention, spending on prevention across the OECD fell by 2% between 2009 and 2014.
ILC-UK argue that to adequately tackle the risk of infectious disease, there is a need for:
Greater investment in preventative interventions throughout people’s lives;
Greater international cooperation on infectious disease risks;
Better digital records that share patient health information with all healthcare actors;
Better access to preventative health services for people of all ages, abilities and in all locations;
Consistent messaging across government, healthcare professionals and civil society on the risk of infectious disease and the promotion of healthy behaviours;
Personalised awareness campaigns that foster champions for infectious disease prevention.
Baroness Sally Greengross OBE, Chief Executive, ILC-UK argued:
“Advances in healthcare over the last century have resulted in increased longevity, and that should be counted as one of our greatest societal achievements. However, the risk of infectious disease is by no means eradicated. And indeed, with a growing share of the population in later life, a number of new risk factors spring up.”
“We cannot be complacent about the prevention of ill health, if we want to make sure that we can all maximise the opportunities that increased life expectancy can bring. Preventing disease and limiting long-term impairment is at the core of ensuring we all can make the most of the benefits increased longevity can yield.”
Professor John Beard, previously Director of Ageing and Life Course, World Health Organization:
“As ILC’s analysis shows, it is important we do not become complacent about the risks of infectious disease. Governments and the pharmaceutical industry must work to minimise the risk of infectious diseases; innovate to develop new and better vaccines; and ensure that we are maximising the impact of existing vaccines by encouraging high uptake among children and older people.”