Will There Be Another COVID-Like Outbreak? China's Expert Prepares For Next Global Pandemic

Dr. Zhang, who played a pivotal role in leading China's fight against COVID-19 and was appointed the leader of Shanghai’s clinical expert team for the virus in 2020, is now at the forefront of investigating the intricate relationship between climate change and infectious diseases.
COVID-19

Representative image

New Delhi: In the wake of the ongoing global battle against the mutations of the Coronavirus, experts in China are proactively preparing for future pandemics. Dr Zhang Wenhong, the director of China’s National Medical Center for Infectious Diseases, is spearheading research to explore the impact of climate change on the mutation and spread of infectious diseases. This research assumes significance as the world braces itself for potential future pandemics, viewing them not as a matter of "if" but "when."
"After the end of the recent coronavirus pandemic, the whole world is actually preparing for the next pandemic," stated Zhang Wenhong, underscoring the urgency of the situation. Dr. Zhang, who played a pivotal role in leading China's fight against COVID-19 and was appointed the leader of Shanghai’s clinical expert team for the virus in 2020, is now at the forefront of investigating the intricate relationship between climate change and infectious diseases.
While the observable impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events, often dominate discussions, Zhang noted a growing body of research focusing on the indirect influence of a warming climate on pathogen mutation and spread. He explained that as the Earth's climate evolves, including the expansion of the tropics, pathogens also adapt and mutate. Research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres in 2020 revealed that ocean surface warming in subtropical regions is broadening the tropics, expanding the reservoir of bacteria and viruses.
The implications of this research are significant, as evidenced by the increasing incidence rates of vector-borne diseases like encephalitis and Lyme disease in the United States and the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever in China. The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted the impact of climate change on the spread of diseases like malaria and the potential role of climate change in the emergence of pandemics, such as COVID-19.
Dr Zhang and other experts are collaborating to develop global disease management agreements and strategies, drawing on interdisciplinary expertise from fields like climate change, public health, infectious disease control, and public policy. Their aim is to create early warning systems for pandemics and provide comprehensive evidence for policymakers.
“Using this platform, infectious disease experts and microbiologists can work with environmental experts and climate experts to conduct in-depth research on climate change and infectious diseases together,” Zhang said.
Furthermore, Zhang pointed out the importance of addressing antimicrobial resistance, a growing challenge compounded by environmental and climate changes. He stressed the urgency of ongoing research and surveillance for understanding and preparing for future pandemics, highlighting the need for a comprehensive and collaborative global approach to health threats.
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