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Preparing for future disease epidemics

Christchurch microbiologist Professor David Murdoch has taken part in an invitation-only global think tank aimed at better anticipating future infectious disease epidemics.

The head of the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Pathology Department was one of two Australasians invited to the World Health Organization-led event late last year.

Future epidemics inevitable

Professor Murdoch says he was privileged to be among about 130 international experts invited to attend, including human and animal health experts, and members of aid agencies and the insurance and travel industries.

“The big idea was how to better prepare for future epidemics, knowing there definitely will be ones. It also recognized reviews of the Ebola response and a desire to improve on that.”

Acknowledging the importance of collaboration, one key outcome of the event was getting people from diverse areas of expertise together, Professor Murdoch says.

Global collaboration crucial to success

The event consisted of six sessions, including ‘Back to the future: learning from the past’, and ‘Preventing the spread of infectious disease in a global village’. Each session consisted of short talks by five experts, then robust discussion.

New focus of study : microbiomes

Professor Murdoch spoke at the event about the relatively new area of microbiomes (the communities of microorganisms that inhabit parts of the human body) and how understanding it could help with preparing for and controlling future respiratory disease epidemics.

Some of the ideas that emerged from the event were that global and public health were getting more political attention than ever, and that health threats increasingly reflected nature, including the animal world, and so acknowledging and understanding its interplay with human health was important.