PathCheck's Take: Ten ways to spend President Biden's $81.7B proposal to prepare for future pandemics

Last Monday, President Biden sent a new budget request to Congress that included proposed spending of $81.7B over the next five years to prepare for future pandemics. Funding for future pandemics is critical. We are remiss if we do not take this opportunity to continue the momentum that many public health organizations and their partners have made to secure the long-term protection of public health.  

At present, many of the innovative technologies and advancements made during the Covid-19 pandemic are at risk of being forgotten and lost. Whether due to pandemic fatigue or lack of funding - we are at a critical point to ensure all we have learned can be harnessed and applied when the next disease 'X' is upon us.

Understanding that any new funding for pandemic preparedness would still need congressional approval - here is a list of the top ten ways this proposal could be spent in order to protect public health in the future:

1. Forecasting and predictive analytics
Forecasting and predictive analytics is a statistical analysis that uses data mining, machine learning, and algorithms based on historical data series to identify behavior patterns and trends to predict future scenarios. Predictive models are helpful in times of health crises. They can estimate disease cases and deaths, the number of resources required to respond to cases (such as hospital patient beds and personal protective equipment) and predict the different waves throughout a pandemic where peaks may be expected. These predictive models are essential to respond to rapidly changing variants and provide results to draw crucial insights that can inform health agencies. 

2. Emerging disease detection and signal validation
Evidence-based responses to pandemics are crucial to avoid excess information (including false or misleading information) that causes confusion and mistrust in policy decisions. It is important investments are made to detect and validate "signals" embedded within the noise of data that is coming from ambiguous inputs.

3. Capacity and resource building in public health agencies
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines capacity building as: the development of knowledge, skills, commitment, structures, systems, and leadership to enable effective health promotion. We have learned throughout this pandemic that capacity building must remain a central goal to strengthen performance and response from health agencies and policy makers. Enabling individuals, organizations and systems to strengthen their capabilities will enhance future pandemic responses.

4. Vaccine Research
Immunization is a key component of primary health care and is one of the world's greatest resources to protect public health. The remarkable achievements reached with vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic prove that continued research and development are needed to ensure vaccines are delivered to prevent and control infectious disease outbreaks.

5. PPE reserves and domestic supply chain
Shortages of essential medical supplies, PPE, and other goods and materials during the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains. Investing in rebuilding domestic capabilities within the U.S. can ensure that doctors and nurses do not have to reuse N95 masks for a week during an infectious-disease outbreak and can avoid unfair practices such bidding wars and price gouging.

6. Rebuild trust, misinformation education and community outreach
We are all vulnerable to misinformation and it continues to be one of the largest and complex problems our society faces online. Investments in digital literacy courses in schools and community outreach are imperative to teach individuals how to question and verify information. Moreover, public health agencies need to continue to engage with citizens between crises to build trust and communication highways.  

7. Citizen engagement tools for risk notification and syndromic surveillance
Capturing and examining data in real-time is a tremendous tool for fighting fast-moving pathogens. Waiting for large organizations to provide guidance on how to respond to infectious diseases can mean critical time lost, citizen infection and loss of life. Citizen-provided data through privacy-preserved crowdsourcing apps can assist policymakers and health agencies to confidently make decisions that would best protect the health of their nations.

8. Training, up-skilling and wage increases for nurses and healthcare workers
Before the pandemic began, the U.S. was already struggling with the shortage of registered nurses which was only exposed further due to Covid-19. The realities of the work, low-wages and poor working conditions have made this work undesirable. It is a standard business practice to build skills to retain your workforce. Pathways, certificates, and increased wages are essential to attract and retain nursing and healthcare talent.   

9. Animal health testing programs
Disease that spills from animals to humans is increasing - as evidenced by Covid-19 - and surveillance of pathogens in animals is an essential strategy to combat infections disease. Additionally, vector-borne diseases are changing along with the climate by introducing and establishing new vectors. The extremity and frequency of weather-related events such as hurricanes (which result in standing pools of water serving as breeding grounds for mosquitoes) are increasing risk. Continued funding and research is needed to prevent the spread of disease.

10. International collaboration
Globalization and ties between nations create collective health risks that are difficult to manage independently. Sharing knowledge and experience accelerates learning and facilitates more rapid responses to infectious diseases - especially for more vulnerable populations.