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The next epidemic is coming

“Four years ago, the world was stunned by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Panic broke out all over the globe. Governments scrambled to contain the infection. By the time the last patient tested negative for the disease, the outbreak claimed thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars in economic losses.

“The 2014 Ebola outbreak was a stark reminder of how vulnerable our society is to epidemics of infectious diseases. We weren’t ready then, and we’re still not ready now…”

We don’t know when the next epidemic will strike we can be sure it is coming. After all, the Bible predicts deadly pestilences will come upon the planet.

Global health has seen incredible progress and exciting new tools that are helping the world reduce child mortality and tackle infectious diseases. So usually, there is super-optimism among researchers, scientists and medical professionals. They point out that life keeps getting better for most people in the world.

“There is one area, though, where the world isn’t making much progress, and that’s pandemic preparedness. This should concern us all, because if history has taught us anything, it’s that there will be another deadly global pandemic.

“We can’t predict when. But given the continual emergence of new pathogens, the increasing risk of a bioterror attack, and how connected our world is through air travel, there is a significant probability of a large and lethal, modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes.

“In the real world… the health infrastructure we have for normal times breaks down very rapidly during major infectious disease outbreaks. This is especially true in poor countries. But even in the U.S., our response to a pandemic or widespread bioterror attack would be insufficient. 

“Several things in the last decade have made me pay closer attention to the risk of future pandemics. One was the outbreak of Swine Flu in 2009. While H1N1 wasn’t as lethal as people initially feared, it showed our inability to track the spread of disease and develop new tools for public health emergencies.

“The Ebola epidemic in West Africa four years ago was another wake-up call. As confirmed cases climbed, the death toll mounted, and local health systems collapsed. Again, the world was much too slow to respond.

“And, as biological weapons of mass destruction become easier to create in the lab, there is an increasing risk of a bioterror attack.

“The Boston area was one of the first places in the U.S. to feel the deadly effects of the 1918 flu. Military personnel getting off and on ships at the Commonwealth Pier… helped carry the pathogen across the U.S. and back to the battlefields of World War I.” It took the virus five weeks to spread across the United States, and it killed 675,000 people. “The death toll was so great that average life expectancy in the U.S. for that period dropped by 12 years. Worldwide, the 1918 flu killed an estimated 50 million people, perhaps more. 

The Institute for Disease Modeling has predicted what would happen today if “a highly contagious and lethal airborne pathogen – like the 1918 flu – were to occur today. Nearly 33 million people worldwide would die in just six months. That’s the sobering news…

“However, the next threat may not be a flu at all. More than likely, it will be an unknown pathogen that we see for the first time during an outbreak, as was the case with SARS, MERS, and other recently-discovered infectious diseases…

“At the Munich Security Conference last year, I asked world leaders to imagine that somewhere in the world, there is a weapon that exists – or that could emerge – that is capable of killing millions of people, bringing economies to a standstill, and casting nations into chaos.

“If this were a military threat, the response – of course – would be that we should do everything possible to develop countermeasures. In the case of biological threats, that sense of urgency is lacking.

“The world needs to prepare for pandemics the way the military prepares for war. This includes simulations and other preparedness exercises so we can better understand how diseases will spread and how to deal with things like quarantine and communications to minimize panic.

“The U.S. can and should play a leadership role in creating the kind of pandemic preparedness and response system the world needs.”

While there are many medical, pharmaceutical and scientific attempts at preventing microbial pandemics, the Bible still predicts that there will be pandemics that will kill perhaps millions of people. While Psalm 91 is a series of promises to God’s faithful people, imbedded in them are predictions of pestilence and other disasters.

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty… Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.” Psalm 91:1-7.

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