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Preparing for the war on viruses

World must prepare for viruses like 'war'
Photo: Preparing for the war on outbreaks
A world health and law expert in Brisbane for a conference on biosecurity has warned the first world cannot assume it's safe from future viral outbreaks.

The Western world must learn from its disastrous response to the Ebola epidemic and prepare for future global outbreaks as if it was preparing for war, according to a US public health expert.

Professor Lawrence Gostin, director of a World Health Organisation centre on public health law and human rights, says the delayed reaction to West Africa's outbreak of Ebola - the product of bureaucratic hand-wringing and cultural self-interest - was simply "unconscionable".

"Germs don't know boundaries," he told AAP.

"There will come a time when there will be a disease that will devastate high-income countries.
"I hope we don't wait until it's too late."

Prof Gostin is in Brisbane for the Biosecurity in a Globalised World conference and warned his host nation against assuming it can lock down borders to ward off viral pandemics.

Even with Australia's advanced health system, a major epidemic would exhaust vaccine supplies and health workers, and cause hysteria among the population.

"The politics and the panic are in many ways worse than the virus itself," he said.

Prof Gostin said "nasty" pathogens, climate change and international travel have all increased the likelihood of future global infections.

"We need to think of this as war," he said.

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