Outbreak response: Pandemic & beyond

By Sarah Collis – Senior Health Advisor for UK-Med and Health Lead for the UK EMT COVID-19 response in the Rohingya Camps in Cox’s Bazar.

This year the world has seen a pandemic like no other in our lifetime. Aside from the number of lives a disease claims or forever alters, outbreaks of all kinds create unimaginable hardships and long-lasting impacts for any affected country – or in the case of COVID-19 – the world.

Health systems, education systems and local economies come under enormous strain and risk complete collapse.

Countless livelihoods are lost amongst this disruption, whilst the poorest and most vulnerable communities – people in poverty, migrants, internally displaced people, refugees, women and children – are invariably the worst affected.

All this has come at a time when the challenges faced by governments and the global humanitarian community to respond to outbreaks have never been bigger.

Nine months since the WHO declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern – and after responding in ten countries for COVID-19, UK-Med brought together a panel of experts to discuss the question:

‘What have we learned from COVID-19 and what’s next for outbreak response?’

Sarah Collis, Chair and Senior Health Advisor, UK-Med
Professor David Heymann, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Our panel heard perspectives from an incredible range of professional backgrounds with guest panellists:

Professor David Heymann, Ngonidzashe Nyambawaro our Team Lead in Zambia, Diana Maddah our Risk Communications & Community Engagement Lead in Lebanon and Emilio Hornsey from the Public Health England Rapid Support Team.  

An insightful discussion ensued covering topics from fear and misinformation, the importance of reliable data access and information sharing, the new opportunities presented by remote partnership working and the cross sectoral importance of community engagement and education.

Panellists answered questions from attendees relating to how the global North and South can collaborate better, what the global community could learn from different national responses and how funders could be encouraged to prioritise preparedness and national capacity building.

I’d like to thank all panellists for their insight, expertise and time. If you missed it, you can watch a recording of the session here.

As more and more people are affected by health emergencies, we at UK-Med are developing our next five-year strategic plan to ensure that we ourselves contribute proactively, sustainably and effectively to meet these needs. Some key learnings we took away from the event are:

Ngoni Nyambawaro, UK-EMT Team Lead Zambia
Diana Maddah, UK-EMT Risk Communication Lead, Beirut
  • COVID-19 has highlighted the need to be ready to respond quickly and flexibly. We must continue to develop our stand-by capacity – having trained clinicians, funding and equipment ready to go at short notice.
  • We have understood, perhaps more than ever, that building partnerships with international and national organisations is vital to allow us to quickly embed very specific skills to address crucial gaps. This is both highly effective in terms of saving lives, but also a cost-effective approach to maximising the impact of limited resources.
  • We have once again seen the importance of academic partnering. Mutually beneficial real-time information sharing between front line responders and ongoing research or modelling is crucial in the response stage, not to mention after action learning on how to improve future responses.
  • Continuation of care is a vital consideration when responding to an outbreak, we must encourage donors to fund recovery, especially as the indirect effects of outbreaks exacerbate the already large need for primary healthcare, maternal services and vaccination. These knock-on effects can often impact the health of populations and their health systems much more than the outbreak itself.
  • We need to prioritise preparedness and building resilience at a country level. National teams are often the first responders and we recognise that having international teams on standby is only one half of the story. Our strategy will seek to support this careful balancing act by pursuing longer term national capacity building opportunities and sharing expertise with national partners.
Emilio Hornsey, Public Health England

Whatever your relationship with UK-Med, we’d like to continue this important discussion. Thank you for connecting and joining our network of people and organisations who are working to ensure we are well prepared to meet the growing need in outbreak response.

We’d be delighted if you would consider a donation to our life-saving work:

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