The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, 26 April 2023, launched a new initiative to help strengthen countries’ ability to plan for, and deal with, another deadly pandemic like COVID-19, as latest figures show a huge fall in COVID deaths this year.
The guidance provides a joined-up approach for responding to the threat or arrival of any respiratory pathogen such as flu or the range of coronaviruses, that have the ability to rapidly mutate into different variants.
According to WHO, the new Preparedness and Resilience for Emerging Threat Initiative (PRET), incorporates the latest tools and approaches for shared learning and collective action established during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other recent public health emergencies.
In his regular weekly briefing in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said “we’re very encouraged by the sustained decline in reported deaths from COVID-19, which have dropped 95 per cent since the beginning of this year.”
He, however, cautioned that some countries are seeing increases in reported cases as some 14,000 people have lost their lives to covid in the past four weeks.
He indicated that as the emergence of the new XBB.1.16 variant shows, the virus is still changing, and is still capable of causing new waves of disease and death.
According to Dr Tedros, covid has come to stay and all countries will need to learn to manage it alongside other infectious diseases.
PRET’s new approach
PRET focuses on improving pandemic preparedness for groups of pathogens based on their mode of transmission. It recognises that there are three tiers of systems and capacities relevant for pandemic preparedness: those that are cross-cutting for all or multi-hazards, those that are relevant for groups of pathogens (respiratory, arboviruses etc.), and those that are specific to a pathogen.
The aim is to strengthen existing systems and capacities, and to fill gaps. This approach avoids siloes, promotes coherence and efficiency, and helps streamline actions at the time of a pandemic.
With the ever-present risk of an influenza or other respiratory pathogen pandemic, PRET’s first module looks at pandemic preparedness for respiratory pathogens. PRET will develop more modules for other pathogen groups as we move forward. Each module is intended to be a living document so that new learnings and innovations are incorporated over time.