Yet even as we fight the spread of this pandemic, we must keep our eye on the next one.
The widespread shutdowns and social distancing measures undertaken in places like Italy, Spain, India, and most of the United States are drastic, but they are also the unfortunate cost of not adequately prioritizing and funding pandemic preparedness. That preparedness is especially important in countries that have yet to see serious numbers of cases. It is not enough to control an outbreak like this in the US: We must control it everywhere.
As a global health community, we must invest in training first responders to detect, isolate, and treat infectious diseases, and we must ensure that they have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to do so. As the first months of this pandemic showed, we can’t afford not to.
We must strengthen health systems to include detection, containment, and treatment, as well as contact tracing and community mobilization. We must ensure the availability of well-trained and well-equipped global health surge capacity teams that can deploy to wherever outbreaks are.
Whether we will learn these lessons is yet to be seen. Fortunately, this pandemic has shown the best of what an organization like Project HOPE can be.
Our focus as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) is always on working with local health workers and communities on preparedness. In China that preparedness began nearly twenty years ago, when Project HOPE helped establish the Wuhan University HOPE School of Nursing—whose graduates were the first nurses working tirelessly to treat patients on the front lines of this pandemic. And when PPE began to run short inside hospitals, our teams on the ground helped deliver more than five million pieces of equipment like face masks, protective suits, and exam gloves to front-line health workers in multiple hospitals across Hubei Province and Shanghai.
It only took a few weeks for COVID-19 to spread to at least fifteen of the countries where HOPE works. Our teams around the world ramped up rapidly to meet increasing needs, helping equip health workers in places like Colombia, Indonesia, and even the United States.
There will be many lessons to come out of this pandemic. But one of the most important will be that the only way to stop a pandemic like this is to work together as a global community. This is one of the main lessons we learned from the 2014–15 Ebola outbreak: Global problems require a robust, well-coordinated global response. Public-private partnerships are critical. We must work together—governments, NGOs, the private sector, the military, and others—with a “no regrets” approach to saving lives. And as we do, we must ensure that other illnesses not related to the pandemic are still treated and their victims do not suffer collateral damage.
This will not be the last pandemic we experience, nor is it likely to be the worst. I am proud to work for an organization like Project HOPE, which realizes the gravity of diseases like COVID-19 long before they emerge and takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to stopping them.