The effectiveness and impact of public health and social measures (PHSMs)

The effectiveness and impact of public health and social measures (PHSMs)

Public health and social measures (PHSMs) are a key strategy to reduce the transmission of pathogens with epidemic or pandemic potential. PHSMs include non-pharmaceutical interventions that can be taken by individuals, institutions, communities, local and national governments and international bodies to slow or stop the spread of an infectious disease, such as COVID-19. Individuals can, for example, engage in behaviours such as frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a mask and keeping a physical distance from other people. Authorities and communities can enact measures such as contact tracing, isolation of cases and contacts, school measures, business closures, restricting public gatherings, travel bans and cordon sanitaire.

These measures can prevent individuals from being exposed to the virus, decreasing the number of people who will become sick, require hospitalization or die from the disease. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been referred to as flattening the curve because of its role in reducing the pressure on the healthcare system and buying time to develop pharmaceutical interventions like vaccines and medication.

PHSMs have significant consequences for individuals and societies, including on health, social and economic aspects. To ensure the burden does not outweigh their benefits, decision-makers need to have a thorough understanding of how the measures work in different contexts, combinations and durations. 

The World Health Organization has launched a new multi-year initiative to measure the effectiveness and social, health and economic impact of PHSMs during health emergencies. It aims at strengthening the global evidence to inform the development of action-oriented guidance, mechanisms and tools for decision-makers.

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