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Conference: “Putting Outbreaks into perspective”
On 24 March 2017 the conference “Putting Outbreaks into perspective” was held at the French Embassy in Berlin. The conference, organized by the Centre Virchow-Villermé and the Robert Koch Institute in collaboration with the Department for Science and Technology of the embassy, aimed to address the issue of epidemics in a context of a globalized mobility which increases the spreading of pathogens and infectious diseases. The conference included presentations and roundtable discussions, and was attended by an audience of about 90 people.
The conference highlighted the fact that many actors intervene during an outbreak: scientists, policy-makers, civil society, WHO, at the local or global level. The communication between these actors is essential to contain the outbreak as soon as possible, but can be difficult (collective hysteria around a distant epidemic, lack of reaction from political authorities, lack of open data, lack of communication between scientists and policy makers or between the local and global level). Development inequalities between regions and the lack of transparency in some countries can make it difficult to alert the international scientific and political communities early enough.
Moreover, it is difficult to sustain political will and funding once the crisie are over. Yet, in order to prevent the next outbreaks, it is essential to strengthen health systems in developing countries and to develop vaccines even if there is no emergency. The problem is to give enough incentives to pharmaceutical companies. Solutions exists, and a coalition of public and private organizations, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), has been created.
Although the increased mobility of pathogens (due to the increased human, animal and product mobility) is worrying, this new factors can be integrated in mathematical models to better predict the most probable spreading route of pathogens. However, it is important to remember that models are not infallible and have error margins, which doesn’t always come to the public’s attention.
The speakers also stressed the need not to focus only on global health security issues, as this approach only provides short-term solutions at a local level (for example, the protection of national borders). The concepts of solidarity and sustainability must also be taken into account in order to provide viable answers to global health problems.