World Bank Group President: World is ‘Dangerously Unprepared’ for Future Pandemics

January 27, 2015

Kim outlines vision for private, public sectors to work together to lessen risk

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2015— Saying the world was “dangerously unprepared” for future pandemics, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim today laid out a vision in which insurance companies, governments, multi-lateral organizations, corporations and international donors worked together to build a system that would help all countries prepare for potentially catastrophic health disasters.

“The Ebola outbreak has been devastating in terms of lives lost and the loss of economic growth in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” Kim told an audience at Georgetown University. “We need to make sure that we get to zero cases in this Ebola outbreak. At the same time, we need to prepare for future pandemics that could become far more deadly and infectious than what we have seen so far with Ebola. We must learn the lessons from the Ebola outbreak because there is no doubt we will be faced with other pandemics in the years to come.”

Kim said that the World Bank Group has been working for several months with the World Health Organization, other United Nations agencies, academics, re-insurance company officials and others to work on a concept of developing a pandemic facility; discussions also were held in informal sessions at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.

He said he expects that a proposal will be presented in the coming months to leaders of developed and developing countries. While a proposal would likely involve a combination of bonds and insurance instruments, he said that in some ways, a future pandemic response facility was similar to a homeowner’s insurance policy.

“This could work like insurance policies that people understand, like fire insurance,” he said. “The more that you are prepared for a fire, such as having several smoke detectors in your house, the lower the premium you pay.”

Kim continued: “The more that countries, multi-lateral institutions, corporations and donors work together to prepare for future pandemics – by building stronger health systems, improved surveillance and chains of supply and transportation, and fast-acting medical response teams --  the lower the premium as well. That would benefit donors and others who would pay the premium, but the greatest benefit would be that market mechanisms would help us to push improvements in our preparedness for epidemics.”

The World Bank Group president said that one possible outcome from the development of a pandemic facility would be a strengthened World Health Organization, as well as building capacity in developing countries for stronger regional disease-control agencies.

Kim delivered his talk during the inaugural Global Futures Lecture at Georgetown. The lecture, titled ‘Lessons from Ebola: Toward a post-2015 strategy for pandemic response,” will kick off a semester-long conversation about the “Global Future of Development” at Georgetown as part of the university’s new Global Futures Initiative.

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