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How to Prevent Future Pandemics: Research

Hello and welcome to the fourth installment of my miniseries on how to prevent future pandemics! There are a lot of different aspects to preventing future pandemics, but I will focus on four main areas: vaccinations, infrastructure, public health infrastructure, and research. We’ll focus on one of these areas over the course of four different posts. This post will focus on research.

Research helps to identify, inform, and drive our decisions and priorities. According to the Institute of Medicine, research provides “important information about disease trends and risk factors, outcomes of treatment or public health interventions, functional abilities, patterns of care, and health care costs and use.”1 Investing in health research helps advance our society and keeps us healthier for longer. Here are some examples of public health tools and successes that we have because of research.

  1. HIV—when HIV was first described back in the 1980s, it was a death sentence to those diagnosed. However, thanks to research into identifying the virus and treatment options, there is now a highly effective treatment, HAART. HAART changed HIV from a death sentence into a chronic condition that can be managed. It also helped to reduce the transmission so that fewer people contract it.
  2. Hepatitis C—According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the leading cause of liver transplants is cirrhosis due to hepatitis C infection2. However, thanks to research into treatment options, there is now treatment available that effectively cures over 90% of those with a chronic hepatitis C infection3.
  3. HPV—According to the CDC, there are six different types of cancer that are associated with human papillomavirus (HPV)4. Research established this link. Additionally, there is also a vaccine that prevents HPV infection and therefore also prevents cancer caused by HPV. Research developed that vaccine.
  4. Vaccines in general—I talk about these a lot because they are one of the most successful and most useful tools in public health. I won’t harp on it again here but just in case you missed it (https://www.coaccess.com/pandemics1/). Again, thanks research!

The examples that I’ve provided take you through the main areas that research bolsters: identification of pathogens and problems (e.g., HIV and HPV), treatment (e.g., HIV, hepatitis C), and prevention (e.g., HIV, HPV, vaccines in general). In this pandemic, research has already helped us to identify the pathogen (SARS-CoV-2). We’re currently working on identifying treatments and developing a vaccine (prevention). Research is what produces all of these things. Without research, our life expectancies would be a lot lower than they currently are. Everything that I’ve addressed in this miniseries has been impacted by research. Investing in health and public health research helps to advance our society and keeps us healthier for longer.

What you can do:

  • If you are sick with COVID-19, speak with you doctor about the possibility of volunteering for a clinical trial researching a treatment. However, this isn’t just applicable for COVID-19. There are many illnesses and conditions with ongoing research that you may be able to volunteer for. Speak with your doctor and visit https://www.nih.gov/health-information/nih-clinical-research-trials-you/finding-clinical-trial for more details.
  • Decisions on funding for research often occurs at the federal level and state levels.

References

  1. Institute of Medicine Committee on Health Research and the Privacy of Health Information: The HIPAA Privacy Rule; Nass, SJ, Levit, LA, Gostin, LO, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press; 2009.
  2. National Institutes of Health. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/-/media/Files/Liver-Disease/livertransplant_508.pdf
  3. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). Recommendations for testing, management, and treating hepatitis C. HCV testing and linkage to care. Available at: https://www.hcvguidelines.org
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV Diseases and Cancers. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/cancer.html