Developing countries have the least resources for surveillance and treatment. They also face disproportionately high rates of flu deaths and infections. People in these countries will likely bear the brunt of a pandemic, which will be able to spread quickly in crowded megacities with inadequate public health services and limited capacity to track infections.
If the surveillance system were expanded to include more humans and animals in less wealthy countries, it would allow officials to detect outbreaks earlier and better track an infection as it spreads.
The CDC has led efforts to coordinate global surveillance. But the Trump administration hopes to slash funding for the CDC, as well as global health programs. If cuts are enacted, it would imperil these efforts.
3. Make sure everyone is prepared
Finally, government officials and other members of the health community need to pay more attention to plans for public health emergency preparedness.
On a federal and state level, many officials have prepared for a sudden upsurge in flu-related illness by conducting training exercises for health care workers and stockpiling resources, such as Tamiflu and IV bags.
But these efforts vary wildly across the country. Laws in some states have streamlined the process to expand the health care workforce, implement measures to keep people apart during outbreaks, or enact other strategies that may help reduce the spread of influenza and lessen the impact of a severe outbreak.
However, many plans remain incomplete. Funding tends to go up after notable disasters and then dissipate when these events recede from memory. Plus, many of the resources available for public health emergencies depend on the discretion of executive officials. The recent reported difficulties of securing federal recovery resources for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria demonstrate that this is a real concern.
Despite progress over the past century, the world remains unprepared for an influenza pandemic. But, with a higher level of commitment and attention, we can greatly improve our pandemic response systems and save lives.