Pandemics: December 27 is International Epidemic Preparedness Day

Basic research needs to be promoted, with strong cadres in virology, medicine, infectious diseases, biotechnology and engineering. December 27 is International Epidemic Preparedness Day.

Pandemics: December 27 is International Epidemic Preparedness Day
Pandemics require coordinated actions to confront them. Photo by Tai's Captures / Unsplash

Mexico and the world are making important progress in terms of strategies for the production and distribution of vaccines in a more efficient way in the face of epidemics, which puts our country in an advantageous position in the face of infectious diseases in general, considers Laura Alicia Palomares Aguilera, director of the Institute of Biotechnology (IBt) of the UNAM, Laura Alicia Palomares Aguilera. On the occasion of the International Day for Epidemic Preparedness, which is celebrated on December 27, the expert in Biochemistry points out that even so, it is also necessary to observe the contrasts, since there are nations that have been left behind.

It will be a year since the first vaccines were approved for emergency use; there are still several countries that do not have access to them. Particularly in countries like Mexico, we have made progress in preparedness, but we need to articulate efforts more efficiently; above all, we need to have solid platforms that allow us to respond in a more timely manner in the future, acknowledged the Ph.D. in Sciences from the UNAM. In November 2020, the United Nations General Assembly expressed its concern because the main diseases, infections, and epidemics have devastating repercussions on human life, which is why it proclaimed the commemoration on the subject.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic wreaks havoc on long-term social and economic development; it maintains the threat that global health crises will overwhelm already overburdened health systems, disrupt global supply chains and destroy people's livelihoods. In Mexico, almost four million people have been infected and approximately 300,000 have died from the disease, while in the world there are 266 million infected and 5,660,000 deaths.

The first Latin American to join the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) recalls that humanity has been affected by pandemics since the beginning; however, not all nations have allocated the necessary resources to face them. Before SARS-CoV-2, pandemics had shown their effects, such as the Black Death (1347-1351), which caused the death of 75 to 200 million people in the world; smallpox, in 1520, caused 56 million deaths worldwide; or the Spanish flu, which from 1918 to 1919 eliminated 50 million people.

The researcher recalls that in modern times, although the 2009 Influenza-A crisis set an important precedent that led to the installation of laboratories and detection sites, it was not followed up and no progress was made in the development of technologies, including several relevant basic research areas that were abandoned once it was thought to be over. Although progress has been made in the world by establishing strategies for the production and distribution of vaccines in a more efficient manner, more platforms are needed to facilitate the task in the future.

These should promote basic research, with solid cadres in virology, clinical virology, medicine, infectious diseases, biotechnology, and engineering, because without a solid scientific base there will be no support for the rest, Palomares Aguilera stresses. "From there we move on to the infrastructure part. There are efforts on both sides that are not articulated and we often continue to think that everyone should have their infrastructure, instead of thinking of national strategies that allow for more efficient response plans".

Currently, several UNAM entities are collaborating in CEPI, an international project dedicated to supporting the revision of vaccines against COVID-19, and also in research on future epidemics. The IBt, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, and the Faculty of Chemistry are participating.