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Global Health Expert Says Risk Of Epidemics Is Real — But They're Preventable

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The world has learned of potential pandemics in the past decade like Ebola, the Zika virus, and Swine Flu. And while Dr. Jonathan Quick believes that the chance of a global pandemic is high, he also believes in the next decade we could see the end of epidemics.

Quick is senior fellow and former President and CEO at Management Sciences for Health in Boston. and a world expert on global health. He's in Louisville to talk about his book, “The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It.” You can listen to our conversation in the media player above.

On how to prepare for an outbreak you don't know is coming:

"The first thing is — and the encouraging thing is — that good, basic public health is protecting us from outbreaks all the time. And as one example, if we think of AIDS as the first new pathogen, the first new pandemic virus of the 20th century, in 2003 there was a virus out of China — SARS — which had a high fatality rate, which got to 27 countries within weeks. But through rapid action it was identified, and even though we didn't have a test or vaccine, we isolated the sick in those 27 countries, including Toronto, and stopped that virus cold in its tracks. So we do have that capability."

On putting an end to epidemics:

"To be clear on the endpoint, we're always gonna have local disease outbreaks. The virus will always be there and we're always going to have disease outbreaks. But what I believe — with 20 years of good, steady investment — is we can prevent these catastrophic outbreaks like we had with the AIDS epidemic when that got out of control, and like we could have with flu.

"So number one is leadership that focuses on the threat and takes it seriously. The second thing is to invest in the prevention that we need, particularly vaccine. The flu vaccine [has] basically been made the same way for 80 years. We gotta modernize it and make a vaccine that works for all of the flus."

On the danger of not preparing for an epidemic:

"I think we need to step back and say what's at stake? If we had an outbreak of a flu virus like we had a hundred years ago, which many of us believe is possible within our generation, that could kill 200 to 400 million people in the matter of a couple of years. It would devastate the economy as we had in 2008 with millions of jobs lost, livelihoods lost. So the risk is real. We can't wait until there's an outbreak. We have to take the necessary preventive action now."

Quick will speak Thursday at a World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana event. It starts at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Louisville Club & Alumni Center.

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for LPM. Email Bill at bburton@lpm.org.

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