PANPREV: What if the Next Outbreak is Just Around the Corner?

15th Oct, 2020

COVID-19 unleashed a standing alertness towards an uncertain and changing future. Should we take the first step? In a media partnership with HQ, MCI Group promoted a
long discussion about pandemic prevention and preparedness, last September. In a virtual round-table, speakers analysed the big picture - not only for the MICE industry but for the entire world.
Manuel A. Fernandes reports

One of the most striking weak- nesses that the COVID-19 crisis brought to light was the fact that our lives are in perfect connection and are interdependent on several levels. The economy was shaken by a massive health crisis, itself partially caused by our consumption habits. And this affected numerous professional sectors, which has put into question our notions of sustainability, environmentalism, technology and our own lifestyle.

In this tangle of concepts, politics has always been in the eye of the storm, accounting for case numbers and percentage rates, enforcing regulations and extraordinary measures, providing economic supporting to various industries. Suddenly, the house of cards collapsed and these ruins gave way to a constant state of alertness, preclusion and, in some cases, panic.

PANPREV, the first interactive roundtable session held and sponsored by MCI and Dorier, was a reflection of this cross-sectional discussion and this Catch-22 situation in which we find ourselves. The event unfolded through live debates with four speakers in different areas of expertise, an interactive Q&A with the audience, and real-time polls in a premonition of what may be the webinar of the future. In fact, this roundtable stood out both in form and substance, enhancing the dynamics and structure of the conversation, as well as some talking points that also affect the meetings industry. After all, this pandemic has come to the core of our professional nature (finding, gathering, bringing and taking) and it is necessary to keep a holistic approach.

The panel included three health experts and an economist: Bettina Borisch, professor at the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva and executive director of the World Federation of Public Health Associations; Ali Mobasheri, professor of Musculoskeletal Biology at the State Research Institute Centre for Innovative Medicine in Vilnius; Ludovic Subran, chief economist at the Allianz SE; and Cobi Reisman, urologist, sexologist and past president of the European Society for Sexual Medicine.

“Ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues, let me give you a stern warning. What we are seeing now looks more and more like a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope.” It could be the speech of any responsible political leader in early 2020, correct? None of that! These prophetic words were enunciated by Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization, at the opening ceremony of the WHO assembly... in 2016.

Since then, we have become progressively aware of the importance of health care in our industry. Despite very clear warnings and forecasts, we have failed to control SARS-CoV-2.

This set the tone of what Bettina Borisch said on the macro aspect of our health systems: “We have to learn from our mistakes, otherwise we risk running an even worse pandemic! [...] We cannot divide society. We have to care for risk groups with good health systems in place, free and universal. Health is collective!”

The foreshadowing did not stop with the WHO. In 2018, before a British audience for the 100th anniversary of the deadly Spanish flu, microbiologist Peter Piot asked whether the world was ready for an upcoming pandemic.

The risk of another health crisis in our interconnected world and the shortcomings of pre-existing diseases highlighted a curious aspect. Laura Spinney in “Pale Rider” shows the global perception of the influenza pandemic by the 1920s’ society, unlike what we now witness almost a century later: “When asked what was the biggest disaster of the twentieth century, almost nobody answers the Spanish flu [...] The Spanish flu is remembered personally, not collectively. Not as a historical disaster, but as millions of discrete, private tragedies.”

Privacy belongs to another time in history and that defines the perfect opposition to an era of social media, data sharing and cutting-edge technology. The globalisation and hypercommunication of our lives have transformed a set of ‘private tragedies’ into a single collective, psychological and affective catastrophe. And sexual too, as Cobi Reisman explained: “At a time when mental health and intimacy are factors left to the background, single people is facing the most challenges. Contact is essential, not letting ourselves be contaminated by fear is a step forward. We should not call this a ‘new normal’.”

The economic costs are yet to be calculated, but Ludovic Subran does not foresee an optimistic scenario: “In this twilight zone, trying to find reason in the midst of chaos is the key. In the event of a second wave, we should expect several bankruptcies and a rampant rise in unemployment. This will change behaviors as shockingly as climate change”. However, he also acknowledged: “Somehow this crisis has also revealed the better side of people, it forces us to see that the rules of the game are the rules that we want. In the response to this crisis, I can see so much policy innovation.”

In terms of priorities, Ali Mobasheri is blunt: “In my opinion, there needs to be other measures and GDP is a grossly outdated one. We need to think in a more global stance about responsibility to the environment in the context of one health. Increase awareness and be prepared.”

Bettina Borisch calls for the emergency of a ‘new social contract’ and for not giving up on organisations’ social missions. “We have to encourage a system thinking approach that lives outside the multiple boxes in which we put ‘climate’, ‘health’, ‘economy’, ‘politics’. It’s all interconnected,” she concluded.

Our industry has something to learn: survival depends on this awareness, poise and decision-making. By the time the next pandemic is around the corner, it may be too late!

Curious about this discussion? See the first first online round-table here:

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