January 13, 2016 — 10:00 AM EST
The world is warned to prepare now for health crises such as the Ebola outbreak, or pay a lot more later.
In October 2000, an Ebola outbreak was detected in Gulu, Uganda. The virus spread across the country, infecting 425 people and killing more than half of them. It was a wakeup call for the African nation, though apparently not the rest of the world.
Uganda responded by creating systems to spot epidemics in the making. “Village health teams” were made responsible for monitoring a few dozen households apiece, as well as building labs so specimens could be tested in 24 hours. While an Ebola outbreak seven years later took weeks to investigate, by 2011 Ugandan authorities were responding in a day or two, keeping deaths to a minimum.
The world needs a similar transformation to prevent outbreaks of infectious disease that threaten security and economic stability, according to a report (PDF) sponsored by several major foundations. Pandemics—epidemics that spread across the globe—could cost humanity $6 trillion in the 21st century, or $60 billion a year, the authors estimate. They argued for investing $4.5 billion a year—or 65 cents for every resident of the planet—to prepare.
“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.”
The document, commissioned by such heavy hitters as the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was written by 17 academics, policymakers, and nonprofit and industry leaders from across the globe. Threaded through its acronym-filled bureaucratese is a politely scathing assessment of the World Health Organization, particularly its handling of the most recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. That epidemic is only now coming to an end, after almost two years and 11,000 dead.
- The Neglected Dimension of Global Security — A Framework for Countering Infect ious-Disease Crises — NEJM January 16, 2016