World needs to invest in early detection of virus, says Gilbert

Update: 2023-06-05 14:31 GMT
Nikolaj Gilbert, president and chief executive officer of PATH. (Photo By Arrangement)

HYDERABAD: Ramping up disease surveillance systems and vaccine manufacturing facilities and expanding global research on potential pathogen candidates can help the world to improve its preparedness for the next pandemic, said a top expert in the global bio-sciences industry.

According to Nikolaj Gilbert, president and chief executive officer of PATH, the world needs to make significant investments to possibly prevent another pandemic from affecting the world. It involves a mix of measures such as adoption of disease surveillance systems and expanding vaccine research and manufacturing capacities.

“It is a fact that when people travel (around the world) we are going to see more epidemics. Local epidemics become regional or potential pandemic because we are more interconnected. Today, the world is more interconnected than it was 100 years ago or 50 years ago. There are more threats we need to capture before they become pandemics,” Gilbert told this newspaper.

Gilbert was in Hyderabad to attend a three-day meeting of the G20’s working group on health. He heads a Seattle-based non-profit health organisation focussed on vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, system, and service innovations.

He said countries need to deploy disease surveillance systems which can flag a pathogen even when it was detected in a remote village. “So we need those surveillance systems and lab capacities which could diagnose what is going on — is it a new pathogen? A new virus or bacteria.”

Disease surveillance systems, he said, have very good return on investments because they will capture (spread of a disease) only for the country but also for the world. They will also be able to support other types of public health needs.

But that, Gilbert said, requires significant investments at global and at national level. So the national governments will have to prioritise investing in such capacities -- not only in the interest of their own country but also the world.

He said countries should join hands to develop vaccine candidates in advance, which could be turned into real vaccines at very short notice. “But then that requires significant commitment globally and it requires resources and collaboration of countries. Big countries could coordinate in a way you could say India will take leadership on research in this type of vaccine candidate, the USA and others could on other ones.”

To address the tendency of rich countries crowding out vaccine supply for their people, and putting at risk the citizens of poorer countries, Gilbert said the world should invest more in setting up vaccine manufacturing facilities at regional level in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. If the manufacturing facilities are set up, he said advanced countries can share required technology to manufacture vaccines at short notice.

PATH also raises funds through donations for preparing the world for the early detection of deadly diseases like bird flu, Ebola, and Covid-19.


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