Pandemics, which are large disease outbreaks that affect several countries, pose major health, social, and economic risks. A severe pandemic can result in millions of deaths, and even the most conservative estimates suggest that pandemics destroy up to 1% of global GDP, which is comparable to other top-priority threats, such as climate change. Recent economic work estimates that the annual global cost of moderately severe to severe pandemics is roughly $US 570 billion, or 0.7% of global income.
The last 30 years have seen a steady increase in the frequency and diversity of disease outbreaks. With unprecedented mobility of people, products, and food, the myriad of disease-causing microorganisms are also increasingly mobile. No nation is immune to this growing global threat that can be posed by an isolated outbreak of an infectious disease in a seemingly remote part of the world. Most of these outbreaks are caused by pathogens of animal origin that are transmitted to people, such as Ebola and avian flu. While outbreaks are inevitable, strong health systems can allow countries to better detect and respond to diseases and prevent an outbreak from becoming a pandemic.
The world is still doing too little
It is not a question of if, but when we will face the next major pandemic -- yet we are still stuck in an unsustainable cycle of panic and neglect. While progress has been made since the recent Zika and Ebola crises, a report by the International Working Group on Financing Preparedness, established by the World Bank, finds that most countries are still not adequately prepared for a pandemic. Many countries chronically underinvest in critical public health functions like disease surveillance, diagnostic laboratories, and emergency operations centers, which enable the early identification, response, and containment of outbreaks. This is especially short-sighted given the low cost of preparedness relative to the devastating impact of a pandemic. In low- and middle-income countries that have calculated the cost of financing preparedness the investment required is up to $1 per person per year.
The purpose of robust pandemic preparedness is universal health security, protecting all people from threats to their health. Universal health security is an essential part of the World Bank Group’s (WBG) ultimate goal of achieving universal health coverage, where everyone can access the quality health services they need without suffering financial hardship, by 2030. Universal health security both depends on and complements broader efforts to strengthen health systems and make them more resilient. It is also critical to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and the WBG’s twin goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
Last Updated: Sep 11, 2017