$4.5 Billion a Year Needed to Prevent Pandemics, Study Says

A study by the Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future calls for investments of $4.5 billion annually — 65 cents for every person on the planet — to prevent global outbreaks of infectious diseases that, if not prevented, could cost humanity $60 billion a year.

Given the economic and human costs of a global pandemic, the report, The Neglected Dimension of Global Security: A Framework to Counter Infectious Disease Crises (144 pages, PDF), argues that nations and their leaders must commit to creating and financing a comprehensive framework to prepare for and counter infectious disease crises. "There are very few threats that can compare with infectious diseases in terms of their potential to result in catastrophic loss of life," the report states. "Yet nations devote only a fraction of the resources spent on national security to prevent and prepare for pandemics."

Commissioned by the Allen Family, Ford, Gates, Moore, and Rockefeller foundations; the Wellcome Trust; USAID; and Ming Wai Lau, the report calls on the global community to develop a health security framework that would strengthen public health systems as the foundation of global health and a first line of defense; bolster outbreak preparedness, alert, and response systems; and accelerate research on infectious disease threats. According to the study, the World Health Organization — which declared this week that all known chains of Ebola virus transmission in the most recent outbreak in West Africa have been stopped — is currently unprepared for the task of preventing pandemics. Noting, however, that "there is no realistic alternative" to the underresourced agency, the commission calls on WHO to secure more resources, increase its capacity, and demonstrate more effective leadership.

To that end, the report recommends that WHO develop benchmarks for the core capabilities and performance of national health systems, create a mechanism to assess their performance, and provide technical assistance to fill any gaps; establish a Center for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response and a sustainable contingency fund of $100 million by the end of 2016 to support rapid deployment of emergency response assistance; generate a daily high-priority "watch list" of outbreaks and encourage preparedness activities; and urge R&D stakeholders to commit $1 billion a year for the development of new drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, personal protective equipment, and medical devices.

The report also calls on the United Nations, World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and bilateral and multilateral funders to secure financial support for lower-middle- and low-income countries; establish clear mechanisms for coordinating responses; and establish a Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility as a rapidly deployable source of funds.

"Four and a half billion is not a small sum," the report concludes, "but neither is it beyond reach. In the context of estimated expected economic losses from pandemics of over $60 billion per year, it is [a] very good investment."