The Contagion Next Time: How to prevent future pandemics

Dr. Sandro Galea, Dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, shares his advice for using the lessons of COVID-19 to create a healthier world.

By Katherine Gianni

We have just been through a pandemic that changed our world seemingly overnight. While vaccines have enabled us to look ahead to a post-COVID-19 future, we remain vulnerable to pandemics — and the next one could be worse. What lessons should we draw from the COVID-19 moment? How can we apply them to preventing future pandemics? In his new book, The Contagion Next Time, Dr. Sandro Galea explores these questions and articulates a vision for a healthier future. Dr. Galea is a physician, epidemiologist, author, and Dean at the Boston University School of Public Health. He argues that, in order to prevent the next pandemic, we need to address the social, economic, and political conditions that made COVID-19 so devastating. Only by addressing challenges like racism, inequality, political disfunction, and the proliferation of division and hate can we build a world that is resistant to pandemics. In pursuing this work, we should be guided by the values of compassion and humility, towards the goal of a better future.

Recently, Dr. Galea took to Reddit for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) about The Contagion Next Time, the foundational forces that shape health, why he is hopeful despite the challenge of this moment, and more. The top takeaways from this discussion can help inform the broader conversation about COVID-19, preventing future pandemics, and shaping a healthier world.

Photo by Isaac Quesada on Unsplash.

1) Now is the time to learn the lessons of COVID-19.

Dr. Galea on the need to absorb the lessons of the last 20 months.

2) Health is a public good.

We can only shape a healthier world when all sectors are oriented towards this goal. Dr. Galea makes the case for this big-tent approach to supporting health.

3) Health inequities are a global challenge.

Dr. Galea discusses the challenge of closing health gaps at the global level and how addressing asset inequality is core to solving this problem.

Photo by Valdimir Fedotov on Unsplash.

4) Health is downstream of the public conversation.

Shaping a healthier world means engaging with the conversation about the issues that matter most to health.

5) We all need to be engaged in pursuing a healthier world.

Dr. Galea on the importance of collective engagement, as a counterbalance to the outsized influence of those with money, power, and political clout.

6) Despite the challenge of the moment, there are reasons to be optimistic about health.

Dr. Galea on how COVID-19 showed our capacity to come together and make big changes in support of health, and why this is cause for hope.

Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash.

7) Health is a means to the end of living a rich, full life.

Fundamentally, we wish to be healthy so we can live the kind of lives we want to have.

8) Health is a product of the world around us.

Often, when we think about health, we are just thinking about the narrow context of healthcare. Dr. Galea makes the case for a change in how we think about health, one rooted in health’s core social, economic, environmental, and political determinants.

9) Shaping a healthier world means balancing the profit motive with concern for the public good.

The success of COVID-19 vaccines reflects the importance of private innovation in shaping a healthier world. However, Dr. Galea argues we should not let the imperatives of the market crowd out concern for health as a public good which should be accessible to all.

Photo by Brano on Unsplash.

10) We need to follow the data, check our biases, and collectively address the structural causes of poor health.

Dr. Galea on working together to address the foundational drivers of health.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. For more public health perspectives, follow Dr. Galea on Twitter at @sandrogalea and visit his website, sandrogalea.org. For research updates from BU’s School of Public Health, follow @BUSPH.

Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: bu.edu/experts