George Mason University
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George Mason University

The time to prepare for the next public health threat is now, Mason professor says

April 17, 2020

Kathryn Jacobsen

As countries and communities around the world are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, a George Mason University professor says it is not too early to think about preparing for the next threat to global public health.

Kathryn H. Jacobsen, a professor specializing in global heath epidemiology in Mason’s College of Health and Human Services, says that a cycle of “panic then forget” happens when people return to old habits soon after a threat has passed. “Panic-then-forget is a well-established way of reacting to public health crises.”

“Humans are social beings,” Jacobsen said. “That’s the way we are wired. We want to gather with our families and friends. We want to go to school and have classrooms filled with students.” But that desire to return to normal ways of operating could be problematic. “There’s a risk that two years from now we’re going to be back doing everything the same way we were a year ago.”

In an article for The Lancet, Jacobsen outlined actions that can be taken to improve global public health preparedness:

  • Fully implementing the International Health Regulations (IHR) in countries of all income levels to ensure stronger laboratory capacity, disease surveillance, supply chain management, and other public health capabilities.
  • Accelerating progress toward achieving the priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction adopted by the United Nations in 2015, which aims to increase resilience to a variety of hazards, including pandemics.
  • Using a One Health approach that emphasizes the interactions among humans, animals and the environment when planning for the prevention, detection and control of future outbreaks.

Jacobsen says that now is the time to establish the structures that will enable us to detect and respond to future outbreaks quickly.

“We already have international frameworks that spell out what we need to do to improve our responses to emerging infectious diseases,” Jacobsen said. “If countries around the world agree now that they will prioritize funding for preparedness activities, there will be momentum to keep supporting those systems after the coronavirus pandemic is over.”

“Now is the time to say we are going to break the panic-then-forget cycle,” she adds. “We can act now to prevent the next pandemic.”

Kathryn Jacobsen can be reached at kjacobse@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at dcristod@gmu.edu or 727-580-5723.

About George Mason 
George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. 

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