Image: A man, wearing a surgical mask as a precautionary measure against the novel coronavirus, walks near a hospital in Khobar city in Dammam May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) – Investing less than $0.72 a year for each person would make the world far more resilient to potentially devastating pandemics, according to a global health expert group convened in the wake of the Ebola crisis.
A report by the Commission on Creating a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future, published on Wednesday, said infectious diseases are as potentially dangerous to human life, health and society as match wars and natural disasters.
Pandemics cost the world more than 40 billion pounds ($58 billion) each year, the report estimated, yet preparations are chronically underfunded compared with other threats.
“Few global events match epidemics and pandemics in potential to disrupt human security and inflict loss of life and economic and social damage,” said Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity.
“Yet for many decades, the world has invested far less in preventing, preparing for and responding to these threats than in comparable risks to international and financial security.”
The Wellcome Trust co-funded the review, which was coordinated by the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and several other organizations.
An Ebola epidemic killed more than 11,000 people and wreaked economic and social havoc when it’swept through three countries in West Africa last year.
The world has faced several other infectious disease crises in the last 15 years, the report noted, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the HIN1 flu pandemic.
The commission’s experts estimated that at least one new disease pandemic will emerge in the next 100 years, with a 20 percent chance of four or more in that time.
“Pandemics don’t respect national boundaries, so we have a common interest in strengthening our defenses,” said Peter Sands of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for business and government at the Harvard Kennedy school, who chaired the commission.
Preventing and preparing for potentially catastrophic pandemics “is far more effective, and ultimately far less expensive, than reacting to them when they occur — which they will,” he added.
Farrar told a briefing in London that a crucial factor in preparing for disease epidemics would be the creation of a strong, independent center under the umbrella of the World Health Organization (WHO), which would lead outbreak preparedness and response.
The new center, which he said could be set up within a year if supported by the WHO and its 194 member states, should be a permanent part of the WHO system but also have “considerable operational independence and a sustainable budget”.
“What we need to see now is action,” Farrar said. “The WHO’s leadership and its member states must make 2016 the year in which we learn the lessons of past epidemics and pandemics and implement these valuable measures, to build a more resilient global health system.”
(Editing by Catherine Evans)
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