AFP

BANGKOK: Broad international pressure to improve public healthcare could cut the ability of countries to protect themselves against a hypothetical “Zoonosis” pandemic of the 1918 flu, an influential group warned Thursday.

Some 139 countries now provide telehealth services — that is, regular free medical visits — through email, voice or internet — to people with serious mental illnesses.

“We can now significantly lower the danger to the general population, even if it means some people in developing countries, for example people living in poorer countries, are at an elevated risk,” Tony Doherty, co-ordinator of Health Effects of an Epidemic.

The report is among the most comprehensive analyses yet of how to reduce the impact of infectious diseases — and how best to reduce the capacity of other countries to respond to them.

It was released Thursday by the Health Effects Consortium (HOEC), an alliance of researchers in the United States and Britain, and the WHO.

“We think that it’s an incredibly optimistic view,” DOherty said, arguing that spreading telehealth services “would not guarantee the protection of the general population.”

The members of HOEC — which includes the World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Australian National University, the WHO and other international agencies — were invited to create the report by the WHO.

They “were encouraged by the Director General of the WHO to lay the foundation for the group to brainstorm and to come up with a prioritization of priority areas for joint action,” DOherty said.

The experts — including most WHO-members — said they would begin examining the mechanisms that would drive successful prevention and surveillance programs, especially around specific infectious diseases.

“Budgetary pressures may pose some practical challenges,” they warned.

“Nevertheless, for a pandemic to materialize, our vision for global partnerships and programs must be realized.”

The researchers say governments should use this information to mobilize funds to deliver services to vulnerable populations.

But doing so could require redirecting funding from infectious disease surveillance into one which could serve those most at risk.

“This research makes a big deal of credibility, because clearly this is not an unguided bus,” said Elizabeth O’Brien of WHO’s Center for Collaborative Prevention, Disease and Climate Change.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said in the past that the ideal goal for public health intervention must be prevention, rather than an ability to stop such an epidemic from happening.

“We must plan for prevention at scale,” said DOherty.

“Formal resistance to countermeasures in health systems is currently pretty significant.”

Experts say that key to the prevention of infectious diseases — if they are not decimated by military intervention — is increased public healthcare systems that work together, and promote greater trust between medical staff.

The danger of a “Zoonosis” pandemic has raised particular concern in the United States, where rival mental health services has been worsened by cutbacks.

The WHO has estimated that the impact of Zoonosis in the United States would be around 80,000 “internationalised” individuals.

“In comparison, many individuals living with disabilities spend up to two days a week in very isolated communities,” said DOherty.

“They are isolated. That’s not an ideal environment for highly contagious and often fatal infectious diseases like Zoonosis.”