Letter to the Editor: Why wait for the next pandemic to invest in weak public-health systems?

No More Epidemics campaign director Frank Smith published a letter to the editor in Friday’s Washington Post.

Regarding Jim Yong Kim’s July 1 Washington Forum commentary, “A plan to deal with the next pandemic”:

The creation of the World Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility is exciting and will ensure a more effective response during pandemics. Yet why wait for the next pandemic to invest in responses to disease threats?

In poor countries and regions where public-health systems are weak, diseases such as cholera, AIDS, yellow fever, Ebola, tuberculosis and Zika emerge and spread undetected. Strengthening health systems in the poorest countries will stop the spread of diseases as they emerge and protect others from the threat of epidemics and pandemics. Strengthening health systems requires political will and adequate funding.

The right long-term investments to ensure that health workers can detect abnormalities and sound alarms are critical. Investment in health systems has tended toward large projects such as hospitals. But an effective and well-trained workforce is critical, as are good management, effective planning, efficient information and data management, effective disease surveillance systems to track diseases across animal and human populations, diagnostic and laboratory capacity, drug procurement and distribution processes and the right policies and legislation. These are some of the forgotten components on which a health system depends.

By investing in health systems, we can maintain healthy populations, prevent the spread of infection and finally stop lurching from one public-health crisis to another.

Frank D. Smith, Arlington