Large-scale epidemics and pandemics pose a serious threat to all sectors, impacting routine health services, economic and food security, trade, education, civil order, communication, transportation, and many other areas of life. The threat of emerging infectious diseases, including those of zoonotic origin, and the increasing prevalence of diseases previously controlled by antimicrobials and vaccination efforts, is a cause for concern to the global health community. Communities play an important role in prevention, early detection and early response with regard to this threat, and in a ‘whole-of-society’ approach they can help contain and control infectious disease threats, limiting geographic spread, saving lives, and mitigating negative impacts.
Recent initiatives by the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank (WB), and others to support more resilient health systems, ensure quality of health services, expand universal primary healthcare and strengthen public health capacity are key steps to ensuring readiness and compliance under the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005). Since 2014, over 50 nations, international organizations and non-government stakeholders are collaborating and building capacity to achieve specific and measurable targets to accelerate achievement of core capacities to support the implementation of the IHR under the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) . The GHSA supports a multi-lateral, multi-sectoral approach to achieving accelerated progress towards local and global health security by strengthening capacity to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases threats. However, achieving global health security requires an inclusive and collaborative effort that captures and builds on the critical interdependencies between communities, civil society, the private sector, and governments to ensure success and GHSA has, to date, been weakest in regard to engagement of the ore peripheral and non-health-specific elements of society.
Engagement of communities and civil society in epidemic and pandemic preparedness is vital to ensure early response and mitigate impact, including the delivery of normative health services. As noted in the World Health Organization’s Guidance for Managing Ethical Issues in Infectious Disease Outbreaks : “all aspects of infectious disease outbreak response efforts should be supported by early and ongoing engagement with the affected communities”. To facilitate this process and to establish and maintain trust, working with communities before infectious disease events is essential. By engaging civil society and community leaders, including the media, within the preparedness and response cycle it can allow for a more coordinated, inclusive, and rapid response.