Contain, Curb, and Cure: How can we stop the coronavirus and other future pandemics?

RHIDITA SAHA

The entire world is under lockdown. Thousands of people are dying. The global economy has been dramatically halted. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is a major challenge that is affecting all countries, and thus requires a coordinated and scientifically informed approach [1]. Experts do not yet know a timeline for when “normal” life can resume, but slowly we as a global community will overcome this pandemic, and learn lessons to prevent and prepare for future pandemics. 

The most important thing that everyone can do to help stop the pandemic is to stay at home whenever possible.  If it is absolutely necessary to go out in public, it is vital that physical distancing is practiced [2]. This will reduce the overall number of people who are infected with the coronavirus, and ensure that healthcare systems are not overwhelmed by an influx of patients suffering from COVID-19. Along with this and travel restrictions, people should practice proper hand hygiene, wear non-surgical masks when physical distancing is not possible, and disinfect commonly-touched surfaces [2]. 

As members of the community, we should rely on credible sources of information about the coronavirus such as the World Health Organization and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention [3]. We should not stop practicing physical distancing until health experts say it is safe to do so, and we should not rely on unproved medications or treatments for the coronavirus [2]. 

Furthermore, a community-based approach to containing and stopping the spread of the coronavirus is crucial [4]. We must take care of the vulnerable populations in our communities, including seniors citizens, essential workers, people facing homelessness, those who are immunocompromised, and those with low-income. For instance, people facing homelessness are at an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus because they may not be able to practice physical distancing and hand hygiene. For these people, we must provide proper housing and financial aid to help them be safe during this pandemic [5]. In addition, we can fundraise for people affected by COVID-19, donate food items to our local food banks, support local small businesses, check up on our friends and family, buy essential goods for our elderly neighbours, and make homemade masks to distribute. 

Stopping this pandemic means dealing with its side-effects, including an increase in mental disorders, substance abuse, domestic violence, unemployment, financial debt, and more [6]. It is very important that our communities stay strong and make mental health support, financial relief, and safe housing available [4]. At the same time, we must ensure that routine vaccinations and healthcare for pregnant women, the elderly, and immunocompromised patients continue so that we can prevent otherwise preventable illnesses [7]. 

Policy makers and leaders play a key role in eradicating the pandemic. Governments must ensure that all healthcare and essential workers have access to enough personal protective equipment, and that testing capacities are increased, so that as many people as possible can be tested in as short a time as possible [2,8]. Moreover, governments should employ new technologies for tracking the spread of the coronavirus in the community. For example, an app that notifies people if they have been to an area where someone recently tested positive will allow people to self-isolate and reduce the potential spread of the virus even if they are asymptomatic [2,9]. Governments should also support businesses to design safe workplaces so that employees can return to work when allowed. 

Most importantly, the scientific community needs increased funding to do research quickly, and create safe treatments and vaccines that will stop the coronavirus [1,3,10]. Antiviral drugs, drugs that work on the immune system, and other indirect treatments need to be clinically tested and developed fast to help patients with COVID-19, and reduce the death toll from this pandemic [11,12]. 

On the other hand, safe and effective vaccines must be manufactured on a large-scale and distributed in an equitable manner [10,13]. Vaccines take longer to develop because they are given to healthy people, but they are a core component of ending the pandemic. At first, essential workers, seniors, and those populations at high risk must be vaccinated. Then, the rest of the community should be vaccinated. The goal should be to reach herd immunity so that members of the community who are not vaccinated are protected from the virus [14]. 

The current pandemic will not be the last one that our world faces. Thus, it is important to prevent and plan for future pandemics. Firstly, we need better disease surveillance, monitoring, and tracking [8]. This data should be available to relevant organizations and researchers around the world, and there should be a system that gives an early warning to governments and scientists if an outbreak might happen soon [10]. For this, artificial intelligence would be an important tool because it can analyze large quantities of data and give valuable information back to researchers [8]. When an outbreak does occur, this information would be crucial to quickly identifying the viral pathogen, as well as guide decisions to prevent a pandemic [3].

Secondly, we must help low- and middle-income countries strengthen their primary health care systems, so that all healthcare workers are adequately trained to deliver vaccines, monitor diseases, and communicate trustworthy information to the public [10]. This coronavirus pandemic should give the world lessons on how to create long term changes to healthcare systems, so that they can more strategically and quickly deploy resources and personnel when needed, increase testing, and trace the spread of the virus [8]. Researchers and pharmaceutical developers should strengthen their capacity for safe vaccine development, greater production, and fast distribution when dealing with a novel outbreak [13,15]. 

Lastly, we must consider the role of modern societal challenges in disease outbreaks, including globalization, urbanization, population growth, climate change, and habitat destruction. We must protect natural habitats from destruction and create buffer zones around natural habitats to prevent the zoonotic transmissions of new viruses from animal to human populations [8]. The coronavirus pandemic challenges everyone, and as a community we must unite to stop its spread and prevent future pandemics. 

 

Works Cited

[1] Kaplan, Sarah, Wan, William and Achenbach, Joel. “The coronavirus isn’t alive. That’s why it’s so hard to kill.” The Washington Post, 23 March 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/23/coronavirus-isnt-alive-thats- why-its-so-hard-kill/

[2] “Preventing the spread of the coronavirus.” Harvard Health Publishing, 13 May 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/preventing-the-spread- of-the-coronavirus

[3] Fineberg, Harvey V. “Pandemic Preparedness and Response – Lessons from the H1N1 Influenza of 2009.” New England Journal of Medicine, no.370, 3 April 2014, p.1335-1342, Pubmed, doi:10.1056/NEJMra1208802. 

[4] Banerjee, Debjani and Nair, Vasundharaa S. “Handling the COVID-19 pandemic: Proposing a community based toolkit for psycho-social management and preparedness.” Asian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 51, 7 May 2020, Science Direct, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajp.2020.102152.

[5] “Guidance for providers of services for people experiencing homelessness (in the context of COVID-19.” Government of Canada, 13 April 2020, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel- coronavirus-infection/guidance-documents/homelessness.html

[6] Galea, Sandro et al. “The Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19 and Physical Distancing, The Need for Prevention and Early Intervention.” Jama Internal Medicine, no.180 (6), 10 April 2020, p.817-818, Pubmed, doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.1562 

[7] “Interim guidance on continuity of immunization programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Government of Canada, 13 May 2020, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/national-advisory-commit tee-on-immunization-naci/interim-guidance-immunization-programs-during-covid-19-pandemic.html

[8] Lu, Michael C. “Future pandemics can be prevented, but that’ll rely on unprecedented global cooperation.” The Washington Post, 17 April 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/future-pandemics-can-be-prevented-but- thatll-rely-on-unprecedented-global-cooperation/2020/04/16/0caca7b8-7e6d- 11ea-8013-1b6da0e4a2b7_story.html

[9] Miller, Adam. “How will the global coronavirus pandemic end?” CBC News, 4 April 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/coronavirus-pandemic-end-1.5521710

[10] Gates, Bill. “Responding to Covid-19 – A Once-in-a-Century Pandemic?” New England Journal of Medicine, no. 382, 20 April 2020, p.1677-1679, Pubmed, doi: 10.1056/NEJMp2003762.

[11] Flanagan, Cristin, Griffin, Riley and Langreth, Robert. “Coronavirus Vaccine Passes a Crucial First Test.” Bloomberg, 16 April 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-coronavirus-drug-vaccine-status/ 

[12] Gallagher, James. “Coronavirus cure: When will we have a drug to treat it?” BBC News, 30 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/health-52354520

[13] Hamblin, James. “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus.” The Atlantic, 24 February 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/02/covid-vaccine/607000/

[14] Andre FE, et al. “Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide.” World Health Organization, 2 February 2020, https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/2/07-040089/en/

[15] Alexander, SPH, et al. “A Rational Roadmap for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Pharmacotherapeutic Research and Development. IUPHAR Review 29.” British Journal of Pharmacology, 1 May 2020, Pubmed, doi: 10.1111/bph.15094.