The global health system is unable to handle another mass epidemic like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Médecins Sans Frontières said, urging wealthy nations to develop coordinated response plans and drugs to fight neglected diseases.
Late and slow international response, the absence of solid leadership as well as the lack of treatments and vaccines are a recurrent scenario in many of today’s health emergencies and are not unique to the Ebola epidemic, the medical charity said.
“If a global pandemic were to strike tomorrow, there is still no well-resourced, coordinated international response in place to kick in,” Joanne Liu, the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Ebola epidemic was detected in Guinea more than a year ago, and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing more than 11,000 people. While Liberia was recently declared Ebola-free, a spike in new cases in Guinea has stoked concerns the virus could spread again.
To avert the risk of losing thousands more lives to a new health emergency, Liu urged the leaders of an upcoming G7 meeting to take action to close the “gaping hole in our global health system”.
World leaders from Germany, the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Italy and Japan will meet in Germany next week, and are expected to discuss Ebola and neglected diseases, among other issues, MSF said.
It said too little funding goes into the development of new drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases, or those that have proven resistant to available treatments.
Moreover, many of these medicines are priced out of reach, the charity said.
“Millions of people suffer from diseases for which there are no effective drugs or vaccines, because they don’t represent a lucrative market for the pharmaceutical industry,” said MSF’s Philipp Frisch.
Drug-resistant tubercolosis (TB) is one of the health emergencies for which new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics are urgently needed, according to MSF.
The organisation said it treats thousands of people each year for drug-resistant TB while managing to cure only one in two, and some forms of the disease are no longer treatable due to resistance to existing drugs.
“Wealthy, developed countries must take urgent action against the market failure in the pharmaceutical research and development,” Frisch said.
This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Maria Caspani is a journalist at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, covering humanitarian crisis and women’s rights.
Image: Health workers put on protective gear before entering a quarantine zone at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district in Eastern Sierra Leone December 19, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner.