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Countries must invest in primary health to blunt the effects of future pandemics: Tedros

Countries must invest in public health, particularly, primary health, to mitigate the impact of future pandemics, as such investments will pay for themselves many times over by preventing and mitigating the effects of epidemics and pandemics, as well as preventing or delaying the need for more expensive secondary and tertiary care, said World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

While delivering the keynote speech at the Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health award ceremony at the University of Michigan recently, the chief of the United Nations Health Agency said that the COVID19 pandemic has taught the world that an advanced medical care system is not the same thing as a strong public health system.

Underlying the importance of public health, Dr Tedros said, “Some countries with the most sophisticated medical care were overwhelmed by COVID19.”

“By contrast, some middle-income countries with fewer resources fared much better, thanks to investments in public health after outbreaks of SARS, MERS, H1N1 and others. They had the muscle memory, and they did better,” he added.

Citing the examples of how simple interventions in many countries enabled them to contain the spread of the pandemic, Dr Tedros said, “For example, the simple art of contact tracing is one that many high-income countries have forgotten how to do, but it is second nature to many low- and middle-income countries because of their experience with outbreaks of infectious disease.”

Stressing the importance of science, the Director General of WHO said that throughout the pandemic, science has given tools to understand how this virus spreads, how it causes disease, and how to stop it.

“Science enabled us to sequence the virus within days of the first reported cases and to develop tests, treatments and vaccines faster than for any pathogen in history,” Dr Tedros said.

“And yet, in some countries and communities, and on social media, the marginalisation and politicisation of science have impeded the response to the pandemic and cost lives,” he added.

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Dr Tedos noted that China's unwillingness to share data transparently is impeding efforts to trace the virus's origins, saying, "Until those studies are done, all hypotheses on the virus's origins remain on the table."

The University of Michigan awards the Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal in Global Public Health, one of the highest recognition granted by the university  to individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of global public health.

The medal was established in 2005 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr Francis' announcement of the success of the polio vaccine trials, and it is presented regularly to a recipient whose contributions have advanced global public health and helped to establish a healthier future for society.

Paying his tribute to Dr Thomas Francis, Jr, Dr Tedros said, “I am deeply humbled and proud to accept this award, named in honour of the great Dr Thomas Francis Junior.”

“As one of the world’s leading experts in influenza and polio, Dr Francis left a legacy that has endured for decades, and that could very well endure forever, with the final eradication of polio,” he added.

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