We live in interesting times. Disruptions – whether manmade or natural – appear with regularity. We usually cope by focusing on the issues directly in front of us, but it might be time to apply a broader perspective to the challenges we face.
Everyone wants to be one and done with the COVID-19 pandemic, but all we have to do is examine the history of pandemics to get a feel for what we’re likely to experience in the future. Add climate change, wars, economic upheavals, environmental disasters, infrastructure emergencies and weather-related crises to the threat of infectious diseases and our prospects seem grave. The risks we run are real and coming fast, and now is the best time to understand where they lie to help us prepare our response so we are better able to endure these challenges.
If we intend to overcome the challenges we face, we need perspective on the ones we’ve already met. Consider this chart of disruptions since 1950 and their associated costs:
Climate Change Is Increasing the Risk
The catalog of threats is bad enough, but when you insert climate change into the mix, you have the potential for diseases to appear in places they have never been before and other threats to emerge at a faster pace. For example, a warming climate is expanding mosquito ranges and increasing the associated dangers mosquitoes pose. Mosquitoes once found exclusively below altitudes of 5,000 ft. are now being found much higher, allowing the ones that carry diseases to transmit them to new, unprotected populations.
Weather-related events, such as hurricanes, mudslides and floods, are increasing as the climate warms, and they can overwhelm or destroy water treatment facilities. Lack of sanitation and clean drinking water can lead to outbreaks of foodborne and waterborne illnesses, like the recent Cholera outbreaks in multiple developing countries. Weather events can also destroy transportation infrastructure making it difficult for people to access healthcare, even in high income countries.
Bird migration patterns are changing because of a warming climate. The new patterns affect the transmission of the avian influenza virus between wild birds, domestic poultry and humans. It also puts previously unaffected wild bird populations, such as bald eagles and songbirds, at risk.
But Climate Change Isn’t Our Only Concern
Climate change is a key driver of global disasters, but it isn’t the only one. Human habits are also a source of concern.
Viruses transmitted from animals to humans are an increasing source of disease. People are moving into new geographic areas and are living in animal habitats that have had very limited human contact previously. Increased contact with animals through breeding, hunting, food preparation and travel provides opportunities for virus transmission, outbreaks and pandemics.
Global travel is another source of transmission. Air travel makes it possible for someone to travel halfway across the globe in less time than it takes for many diseases to incubate, making it extremely difficult to prevent their spread. In 1990, 1 billion people traveled by air, a number that more than quadrupled to 4.2 billion by 2018.Travelers unknowingly bring diseases with them, making containment of outbreaks harder.
Finally, with the move towards urbanization, more humans are living together in overcrowded and unhygienic environments in which infectious diseases can thrive. This is increasingly found in densely populated areas without infrastructure, housing, sanitation, adequate nutrition, transportation and healthcare facilities.
Not All Outbreaks Become Pandemics
Since 2000, the world has experienced a number of epidemics – local or regional increases in a disease – that did not reach the level of pandemics with worldwide impact. Recent outbreaks of SARS and Zika are examples of epidemics that had the potential to become pandemics but did not. These epidemics had significant impact in different regions of the world, but did not rise to the level of a pandemic. With planning, early warning, and resilient systems, enterprise businesses can help mitigate the biorisks they face, like these infections.
Early identification and notice of a disease threat provides opportunities to purchase supplies and equipment, communicate risks and mitigation strategies, build resilience, and take protective actions. This requires real-time or near-real-time data from across the world.
Understanding potential risks associated with various sources of disease is dependent upon experts who provide context and sift through the complexity to share essential information. Knowing what actions should be taken now and preparing for future risks is far superior to waiting for academic research to advise.
PHC provides rapid, actionable and trusted intelligence that powers biorisk management for enterprises and large organizations, helping teams protect employee safety, business continuity and economic security. PHC delivers biorisk intelligence options that meet you where you are – through an API that integrates existing security management software, a stand-alone SaaS platform and alerts, and expert consultations.