The next global pandemic may already be here. The Biden administration has declared monkeypox a public health emergency as cases in the U.S. top 6,600. The rapid spread of the disease prompted the World Health Organization to declare it a global health emergency. The last time WHO took this step, it was in response to the emergence of COVID-19.
While the monkeypox virus spreads primarily through close contact with an infected person, our window to prepare for a massive outbreak is closing.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic is that governments at all levels must consult and collaborate more closely with business leaders on fighting the pandemic. This will minimize economic disruption, maximize workplace safety, and enable governments to mitigate public health consequences by responding quickly.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, business leaders must adapt quickly to make decisions in an uncertain environment in which the public health response is rapidly changing. With countries unprepared, costly lockdowns became the default public policy option.
Now, to help protect the economy, the public and private sectors should work together to determine which workers are eligible and how they can work as safely as possible during a public health emergency.
It is worth noting that the public and private sectors are able to achieve great success during these turbulent times. The public-private partnership has allowed scientists to develop a vaccine in record time. Building on a decade-long research partnership, including with the National Institutes of Health, private companies have developed a novel vaccine based on messenger RNA and produced synthetically, taking billions of dollars at risk. The result is a vaccine that provides high efficiency and protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death. However, vaccine distribution systems can be improved, especially by leveraging the strong existing patient contacts of private sector networks.
There are other important wins: The widespread use of telehealth has helped many patients get the care they need remotely. An ambitious regulatory reform agenda has allowed hospitals to adapt to surging capacity and has brought many health care providers back to work. We must make certain necessary regulatory reforms to help meet this latest public health challenge.
Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted glaring flaws in our system and has revealed how the United States has chronically underinvested in multiple aspects of public health, especially given the profound vulnerability of its underserved communities.
Countries should turn to providing better health care systems that focus on health disparities that have been greatly highlighted by the pandemic. We are seeing this through the impact of COVID-19 on people with comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension, patients in nursing homes, and patients with limited mobility.
A health care system that compensates providers for maintaining health will improve overall health, thereby better preparing Americans for future public health crises and addressing health equity concerns. These make up the second lesson.
The third is that having accurate data is critical. For example, wastewater screening can provide early warning of COVID spikes. Genome sequencing is an important tool for identifying novel variants and developing solutions.
Global public-private partnerships for genome sequencing and mRNA technology will be an effective way to rapidly respond and respond to future pathogen and viral outbreaks.
The fourth lesson is that governments at all levels must do more to prepare. First, the federal government should upgrade and continually update the national stockpile of supplies needed to fight the pandemic, such as personal protective equipment. It must also ensure that we have robust supply chains for these items that can jump-start in a crisis.
The federal government should reform its public health communications to be consistent and clear. CDC needs to implement scientific guidance more aggressively in the real world. It should create a business advisory committee, modeled after the Department of Homeland Security’s Critical Infrastructure Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from various industries, to advise on the economic impact of public health regulations and assist in pandemic planning.
State and local officials should consult with businesses to ensure public sector support for basic public health emergency infrastructure. American schools can also improve the way they teach health education.
The final lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic is how businesses themselves can better prepare. They should now update their business plans based on lessons learned from the pandemic to adjust operations as events require. During a public health crisis, they should see their role as a trusted source of information for their employees. Businesses need to build relationships with trusted medical professionals who can guide employee communications.
While these solutions are not necessarily easy, they are common sense and draw on recent experience. Infectious diseases grow exponentially, not linearly. We must start applying these lessons now – and hope it’s not too late to benefit from them in our fight against monkeypox.
Ronald Williams is Chairman and CEO of RW2 Enterprises, LLC and former Chairman and CEO of Aetna. Mike Swinford is the CEO of Numotion. Both are trustees of the Economic Development Council, the public policy center of the Committee on Conferences (CED), and serve on CED’s Healthcare Committee.
The views expressed in Fortune.com review articles are those of their authors and do not reflect the views and beliefs of the authors wealth.
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