Irish-led pandemic research shows we’re at greatest ever risk of outbreak

27 Mar 2017

Image: Lightspring/Shutterstock

An Irish-led team of EU researchers has compiled an extensive report into our preparedness for the onset of a major pandemic. Unfortunately, the news isn’t good.

At a time where we can travel from one end of the world to the next in the space of a day, the possibility of a global pandemic is constantly on the horizon.

As recently as 2003, a disease called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emerged in China and spread from Hong Kong through international transport hubs to multiple countries within days, causing major disruption, with an estimated economic cost of $80bn.

On top of that, we have also seen a global pandemic with the H1N1 influenza, which affected all countries with significant health, economic, political, social, cultural and environmental consequences.

Now, a report compiled by the EU called Pandem – led by research from NUI Galway – has come to the conclusion that we are now, more than ever, at risk of a global event that could potentially cost human lives.

The objectives of the Pandem project were to review best practice, and identify tools and systems needed to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response at national, EU and global levels.

Based on the report’s findings, a multitude of risks exist for a pandemic, including: the continued existence of influenza crossing species, poor precautions in research labs, and even bioterrorism, with the increased availability of technology and knowledge to build a bioweapon.

Growing antibiotic resistance

Additionally, there is a serious threat of antibiotic resistance. Researchers warn that any lack of newly developed antibiotics could leave even the most basic of infections completely untreatable in the years to come.

Despite these fears, these researchers are now attempting to find new antibiotics within various parts of nature.

NUI Galway’s Prof Máire Connolly, coordinator of the Pandem project, said: “The timing and origin of the next pandemic is uncertain, but improved preparedness can minimise the impact on human lives and health, and the disruption to economies and societies that results.

“By applying innovations from the security, defence and crisis management sectors to improve the tools and systems used by the health sector, we can help to ensure that Europe and the wider world are better prepared to rapidly detect and mitigate the impact of the next pandemic.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic