[Guest Blog] ‘The risk of a viral pandemic is real and increasing’

Alfred Tuinman

As a CEO, one has to be prepared for any wild card event, one that rarely happens but affects your business in a major way. Prof Ian Lipkin of Colombia University started Day 3 of THiNK 2012 talking about just this.

The risk of a viral pandemic is real and increasing. Most of the diseases are zoonotic ie they originate in animals. Once a disease moves in, it can easily spread across a continent and beyond. SARS was the first pandemic of the 21st century. Interestingly, one can map this spread pretty well, but also see how fast a viral infection can spread. The high number of flights around the number makes it no longer an issue of us and them. For various reasons, there is a high risk of a viral disease originating in the Indian subcontinent.

High throughput-sequencing enables a fast taxonomy and luckily this process gets cheaper by the year. Dr Lipkin highlighted a Zambian travel agent who was sick and contaminated everybody she came across. Most died. The disease had a mortality rate of over 80%. Imagine if the sequencing had not been done fast enough. A disease in Chile caused the stock exchange there to drop by 5%.

Dr Lipkin wrote an article on ‘Improving the nation’s ability to detect and respond to 21st century urgent health threats’, which was not read by the politicians. Curiously instead he was approached for a movie to be made on the topic. This movie is called ‘Anatomy of a Pandemic’.

HSBC did a study a few years ago on what would happen if 50% of their staff would be affected. Certainly it pays to be well prepared.
I cannot help but hope that we will hear of Dr Lipkin again…

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