Complacency on infectious diseases risking longevity gains

Paul Chapman discusses antimicrobial resistance and how innovation must go hand-in-hand with awareness to combat superbugs

Experts in health and infectious diseases have gathered at the Science Museum, London, to explore what should be done to ensure that the world is prepared for the future in terms of the risk of infectious diseases and pandemics.

150 senior academics, policymakers and healthcare professionals came together for the debate, hosted by the International Longevity Centre (ILC). It took place to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Flu, which infected about 500 million people and killed between 50 and 100 million people.

The experts argued that a combination of antimicrobial resistance, complacency, austerity, climate change, urbanisation and migration are increasing the risk of infectious diseases and pandemics.

ILC warned that alarmist or inaccurate reporting could also help spread fear or misinformation and undermine the prevention of future infectious diseases.

The event was part of a programme which involves talking to experts across the world about what policy and practice interventions will best minimise the risks to health and longevity of future infectious diseases.

Through the programme, ILC will explore what the lessons of the Spanish Flu can teach us about the future and how we can recognise and respond quicker to events that will shape the experiences of generation ahead of us.

At the event, David Sinclair, ILC Director, said: “The Spanish flu shaped the profile of a generation, their demographics but also their health profile. 100 years on, it is vital that we do not become complacent about infectious diseases.

“We must learn the lessons from this deadly disease to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Reporting on science should be clear, transparent and evidence based. There is no space for fake news if we are to be best prepared. Policymakers must not rest on their laurels. Antimicrobial resistance is a real threat and vaccination across the lifecourse should be our first line of defence.”

Also participating in the event, Steven Baxter, Head of Longevity Innovation & Research, Hymans Robertson LLP, said: “Just as viruses adapt – we must adapt to today’s challenges if we want to maintain our current levels of health and longevity.”

Helen Donovan, Professional Lead for Public Health Nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, commented on the potential effects of the decline in vaccinations in children: “This year the data from the NHS on uptake in childhood vaccination against a number of vaccinations routinely given has shown a decline for the fourth year in a row.

“People no longer see the infections as a major issue and are more concerned by social medial reports of potential vaccine risks, fuelling vaccine hesitancy. The issue for us therefore is how to tackle the growing complacency about the risks of infectious diseases and the risk of outbreaks of these infections occurring again.”