The world juggled many questions as the United Nations General Assembly wrapped up its 76th annual meeting. The half-virtual, half-in-person format this year has reflected the perilous state of the world as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
In any other year, I would hesitate to give my opinion as a result of this meeting of world leaders, and my take on microbes would probably not be the predominant piece of information. But this year, after a year and a half of a pandemic that has already claimed more than 4.5 million lives worldwide, no nation or person on Earth can afford not to care about germs.
If world leaders are learning anything from the death, disruption and desperation inflicted by this microbial pandemic, it’s this: Our best responses have been global, but our worst, narrowly nationalist. Indeed, the world’s response to the threat of COVID-19 has been both inspiring and disastrous.
While experts have long predicted the likelihood of a pandemic, the world has ignored it. Now, we saw firsthand how microbes can wreak havoc in an unfathomable way for most people just two years ago. We have also witnessed the power of science and how great innovations can save us.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we saw the opening of a newly globalized and interconnected world. It could have been an opportunity to tackle some of humanity’s most daunting problems, such as crisis management, hunger, extreme poverty and climate change. The fall of the ideologically-trapped blocs has brought a clearer vision for more transparent and equitable cooperation between sovereign nations. Then came 2020, and the pandemic showed us how difficult it is to rule in a deeply interconnected and global world. We were faced with a really common enemy; a threat which should have transcended any ideological, geographic or parochial interest. But instead, we’ve seen the spread of haphazard nationalist approaches to dealing with the pandemic that are now spilling over into immunization programs.
It is tautological that a pandemic needs a global response. How can we envision reducing the dangerous variants of SARS-CoV-2 when we have billions of unprotected people still waiting for a first dose of vaccine, as we discuss when to give third doses to a few hundred millions of lucky people?
Let’s be clear: the more the virus circulates in the world, the more it will mutate. We don’t know where the dangerous variants will appear and how dangerous they can be. What we need now are stronger frameworks for action and rapid implementation of scientific innovations, which will ensure international collaboration when new variants or pathogens emerge. Designating a national level implementation to solve global problems is like trying to fight a fire in one room while the whole building is on fire.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated that an investment of $ 50 billion in a global immunization campaign would generate an estimated $ 9 trillion in additional global production by 2025. financial crisis – so why can’t we to find the money to support a global immunization program today?
Here’s another example of the need for global leadership: We now have a momentous opportunity before us at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has significantly increased its Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) program, with unprecedented funding of more than $ 1.75 billion. I applaud these visionary efforts and believe the program will be executed effectively by accelerating the sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 variants and other pathogens through the power of “next-generation sequencing”. These new genetic technologies can quickly identify new viral strains, providing invaluable information for research, monitoring and treatment of patients.
However, if advanced programs such as AMD in the United States and programs in other “developed” countries remain national shops, they will not reach the enormous potential that they can realize under global governance by leaders. experienced. We don’t know where the variants will emerge, but we should know the dangers of only looking under streetlights while ignoring the real dangers in the dark.
To monitor the microbial world, we must look well beyond an incomplete circle of well-informed national sampling programs and limited international partnerships. What we need in place to continue to fight this pandemic and be better prepared for the next is a global network of pathogen sequencing monitoring and diagnostic infrastructure.
This is an ambitious goal, but it has happened before, as has been accomplished with the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) or the President of States Emergency Plan. United for the fight against AIDS (PEPFAR), which transformed the infrastructure of clinical laboratories in sub-Saharan Africa.
So, as world leaders begin to think again about the state of their nations after the United Nations General Assembly, I urge world leaders to deploy science in the service of innovative solutions based on the principles of equity and justice. justice, and access to health. It is globalization that is worth fighting for.
Stefano Bertuzzi, Ph.D. MPH, is the Executive Director of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), which aims to promote and advance the microbial sciences. Bertuzzi led ASM’s efforts to combat the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, including working directly with the White House COVID-19 task force, the FDA, and the CDC to increase access to supplies diagnostic testing and removing barriers to coronavirus testing. Bertuzzi led the US government’s negotiations with the European Union to achieve funding reciprocity between the NIH and the EU. He also worked with previous administrations develop an information system to capture the benefits of scientific investments during the Great Recession of 2008.