New Timeliness Metrics Seek to Improve Pandemic Preparedness




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May 04, 2020
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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New Timeliness Metrics Seek to Improve Pandemic Preparedness

Fellows devise first-ever “One Health” timeliness metrics to track improvements in disease surveillance Image: Martin Sanchez/Unsplash

As the novel coronavirus continues to grip the world, it is clear that few countries were prepared for this pandemic. However, a pioneering group of Salzburg Global Fellows, funded by US-based non-profit Ending Pandemics, aims to improve global preparedness for both COVID-19 and future epidemics. Together, they have designed a new system to assess how quickly countries can find outbreaks and stop them before they become deadly global pandemics.

The new timeliness metrics for One Health surveillance were developed at Salzburg Global Seminar’s program on Finding Outbreaks Faster in late 2019, building on earlier work to develop timeliness metrics for the public health sector in 2018. The programs developed “Outbreak Milestones” to enable tracking of timeliness metrics for disease surveillance and response across human and animal outbreaks. 

The Outbreak Milestones for public health were the product of years of pilot testing by Ending Pandemics with country partners and expert consultation with diverse stakeholders. They were further refined by Salzburg Global Fellows in November 2018 and incorporated into key WHO country guidance in early 2019. 

These new Outbreak Milestones go one step further, recognizing critical interconnections between human, animal, and environmental health to have broad applicability to a range of disease outbreaks. It is understood that the SARS-CoV-2 virus first developed in animals before transferring to humans. In recent years other zoonoses – pathogens carried by animals that infect humans – also led to SARS, MERS and Ebola. This interconnectedness prompted Ending Pandemics to lead development of timeliness metrics for “One Health”, recognizing that an integrated, multi-sector approach to disease surveillance is essential.  

Get Prepared

In February as the world was just starting to recognize the possible scale of the current pandemic, Mark Smolinski, president of Ending Pandemics, called SARS-CoV-2 a “wake-up call,” adding “Outbreaks such as this that spread from animals to humans will continue to occur. My motto is, ‘Don’t be scared, get prepared.’”

Developed collaboratively by Ending Pandemics and 35 Salzburg Global Fellows from across the world recognized as international experts in public health, epidemiology, veterinary medicine, and ecology, the One Health Timeliness Metrics are designed around “milestones”: the dates when an outbreak is predicted, detected, verified and responded to, when the authorities are notified, and when a multisectoral investigation is launched, lab tests conducted, control measures implemented and the public informed.

“We recognize that this release coincides with a critical point in the progression of COVID-19,” said Adam Crawley, Program Officer for Ending Pandemics, as the One Health Timeliness Metrics were released in May 2020. 

“Some countries are beginning to pivot from initial response activities and strict social distancing measures to building preparedness capabilities needed for continued early detection and containment. Early detection, timely testing, and rapid response are necessities for combatting this pandemic, and the Outbreak Milestones and Timeliness Metrics provide countries with a framework to monitor their ongoing performance.”

Political Will

Lack of preparedness has been a common failing in many – though not all - countries’ efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, as has the lack of consistent responses to sound scientific advice. 

“We are proud of our Fellows for developing what could prove to be a valuable tool in tackling the next phases of the current pandemic and to halt future outbreaks at a much earlier stage, wherever these begin” said Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer, Clare Shine. “But such tools can only achieve their full potential if there is risk literacy and political will at national and international levels, aligned with best available scientific guidance.

“Founded in the wake of World War II, Salzburg Global has challenged current and future leaders to shape a better world for over 70 years. As the world enters a new era of great upheaval, we call on political leaders to support and work with scientific advisors using these cutting-edge innovations to prevent and mitigate future risks and to help communities and economies build back better.”

The One Health Timeliness Metrics are available for download here:

Download One Health Timeliness Metrics as a PDF