Complacency on infectious diseases could risk longevity gains

A combination of factors like antimicrobial resistance, complacency, austerity, climate change, urbanisation and migration are contributing to the increased risk of infectious diseases and pandemics, experts in the sector willtoday (8 November) argue.

150 senior academics, policymakers and healthcare professionals will come together at the Science Museum tonight to explore what should be done to ensure that the world is prepared for the future. The debate, hosted by the International Longevity Centre (ILC) will take place alongside the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu, which infected about 500 million people and killed between 50 and 100 million people.

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

The ‘Spanish flu’ was so called, not because Spain was most heavily impacted or was the origin of the disease, but because most countries involved in the First World War controlled the spread of information through censorship. The neutrality of Spain led to them publishing impartial and accurate information about the disease.

Emergency hospital in Camp Funston, Kansas, US during Spanish Flu epidemic, circa 1918.
Emergency hospital in Camp Funston, Kansas, US during Spanish Flu epidemic, circa 1918. Source: National Museum of Health and Medicine/

At the event, David Sinclair, ILC Director will say: “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. Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) is a real threat and vaccination across the lifecourse should be our first line of defence.”

In a report published yesterday, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has warned that AMR bugs could kill some 2.4 million people in Europe, North America and Australia alone over the next 30 years unless countries act.

“A modern day antibiotic resistant pandemic would have far reaching impact. Immediate effects of huge morbidity, loss of economic productivity, massive strain on health systems and potentially material loss of life are obvious. But there are also likely to be longer term effects,” Steven Baxter, Head of Longevity Innovation & Research, Hymans Robertson, will explain at the event.

ILC said the event is part of a global programme, 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.