World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan on May 23rd, delivered a speech at the World Health Assembly, involving 3,000 delegates from its 194 member states in Geneva.

In her speech which has been described by many as a blunt warning, she said that the world is not prepared to cope with the eruption of plagues and pandemics. In her words “we’re facing an eruption of plagues and pandemics and it’s our own fault.

“Let me give you a stern warning. What we are seeing now looks more like a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. And the world is not prepared to cope.

She made reference to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa which paralyzed the whole world with fear and travel constraints in 2014.

“The global health landscape is being shaped by three slow-motion disasters: a changing climate, the failure of more and more mainstay antimicrobials, and the rise of chronic non-communicable diseases as the leading killers worldwide.

“These are not natural disasters. They are man-made disasters created by policies that place economic interests above concerns about the wellbeing of human lives and the planet that sustains them”, she said.

In continuation, Dr. Chan explained that “the rapidly evolving outbreak of Zika warns us that an old disease that slumbered for six decades in Africa and Asia can suddenly wake up on a new continent to cause a global health emergency.

“The lesson from yellow fever is especially brutal. The world failed to use an excellent preventive tool to its full strategic advantage.

“For Ebola, it was the absence of even the most basic infrastructures and capacities for surveillance, diagnosis, infection control, and clinical care, unaided by any vaccines or specific treatments.

“For Zika, we are again taken by surprise, with no vaccines and no reliable and widely available diagnostic tests. To protect women of child-bearing age, all we can offer is advice. Avoid mosquito bites. Delay pregnancy. Do not travel to areas with ongoing transmission.”

“Ensuring the quality of food supply is also much harder when a single meal can contain ingredients from all around the world, including some potentially contaminated with exotic pathogens.

“Unchecked, these slow-motion disasters will eventually reach a tipping point where the harm done is irreversible.”

Author: Ope Adedeji