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Preparing for the Next Pandemic

A Miller School expert is working with public health leaders to develop a global treaty

Illustration by Benedetto Cristofani


ack in 2019, José Szapocznik, Ph.D., professor and chair emeritus of the Miller School’s Department of Public Health Sciences, foresaw the need for a worldwide coalition that could help contain disease outbreaks and prevent major pandemics. Just two months after he discussed his idea with the AIDS Health Care Foundation, the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Dr. Szapocznik and 20 other public health leaders then published an article in The Lancet Public Health, calling for a global framework and treaty that could help every nation prevent, prepare and respond to outbreaks and pandemics in a more systematic way. (The lead author was Johnathan Duff, Ph.D., M.S.P.H. ’16.)

“If we are going to prevent pandemics, we need a different global governance architecture that has these functions,” Dr. Szapocznik said. “And to have an effective mechanism, this body needs to monitor what’s going on in different countries and be able to verify the data independently.”

Toward that aim, and with a grant from the AIDS Health Care Foundation, Dr. Szapocznik worked with Jorge Saavedra, M.P.H., M.H.P.M., executive director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University, and sought guidance from UM president and global public health expert Julio Frenk, to form the Panel for a Global Public Health Convention in early 2021. Today, Dr. Szapocznik serves as the head of its secretariat. The 10-member panel, which meets monthly, got a major boost in December, when in response to its advocacy and that of many other international groups, the World Health Organization declared it would set up a body to start negotiating such an agreement or treaty.

“Equity is needed not only in the distribution of common goods, like vaccines and medications, but also in the financing needed to prepare poor countries to respond effectively when an outbreak occurs,” Dr. Szapocznik said. “No single country can prevent the impact of a pandemic because viruses do not recognize borders. Some countries aren’t willing to look at the bigger picture, but we have to cooperate if we are going to prevent the next big pandemic.”