A bet­ter way to pro­tect the world from the next pan­demic

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

TBy Jim Yong Kim he grow­ing con­cern over the Zika virus un­der­scores a fright­en­ing re­al­ity. The world re­mains ill pre­pared for a fast-mov­ing virus. Over the past decade, Ebola, avian flu, swine flu and other pan­demics have shown how vul­ner­a­ble we all are when ma­jor out­breaks start in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try with a weak health sys­tem.

But too lit­tle in­vest­ment in pan­demic pre­pared­ness at the lo­cal, na­tional and global lev­els leaves all of us, no mat­ter where we live, vul­ner­a­ble to the spread of a deadly pan­demic. Pan­demics are a global se­cu­rity threat, and they de­mand a truly global re­sponse.

This, in fact, is about to hap­pen. The world will now be able to au­to­mat­i­cally send money, med­i­cal teams and life­sav­ing sup­plies to any of the 77 poor­est coun­tries to pre­vent a ma­jor out­break from spread­ing and es­ca­lat­ing. The newly cre­ated Pan­demic Emer­gency Fi­nanc­ing Fa­cil­ity will lever­age money from wealthy coun­tries, cap­i­tal mar­kets and the rein­sur­ance in­dus­try, and use those funds if needed to mount a rapid early re­sponse to shut down an out­break with pan­demic po­ten­tial— and at a frac­tion of the cost of de­layed ac­tion.

This fa­cil­ity, which will be up and run­ning later this year, will dis­burse money quickly through two routes. First, it will open up an en­tirely new in­sur­ance mar­ket: pan­demic risk in­sur­ance. Low in­come coun­tries will be cov­ered against cer­tain types of viruses ex­pected to cause the ma­jor­ity of se­vere out­breaks, in­clud­ing Ebola. Once an out­break meets pre­de­ter­mined cri­te­ria based on size, sever­ity and speed, money will flow to the af­flicted coun­tries and in­ter­na­tional re­spon­ders. Much like with other types of in­sur­ance, a small amount of money paid up front will pro­vide coun­tries with a much larger amount of sup­port when it’s most needed.

Sec­ond, in the event of emerg­ing or more un­pre­dictable types of out­breaks for which ex­ten­sive data is not yet avail­able, such as Zika, the fa­cil­ity can use cash to trig­ger a faster re­sponse. Ei­ther way, this means we no longer will rely on inevitably slug­gish—and lethally un­pre­dictable—po­lit­i­cal de­lib­er­a­tions or pass-the-hat fundrais­ing ap­peals, which usu­ally come too lit­tle, too late.

If this fa­cil­ity had ex­isted in 2014 dur­ing the Ebola out­break in West Africa, we could have mo­bi­lized $100 mil­lion as early as July that year to ac­cel­er­ate the re­sponse. In­stead, that level of fund­ing did not be­gin to flow un­til three months later—dur­ing which Ebola cases in­creased ten­fold—and even­tu­ally cost $10 bil­lion and count­ing to U.S. and other tax­pay­ers for emer­gency re­sponse, re­cov­ery ef­forts and eco­nomic losses to the af­fected coun­tries.

In ad­di­tion to fill­ing a crit­i­cal fi­nanc­ing gap, the Pan­demic Emer­gency Fi­nanc­ing Fa­cil­ity will serve as a cor­ner­stone in build­ing a bet­ter global sys­tem to re­duce fu­ture pan­demic risks.

The fa­cil­ity will com­ple­ment the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s new en­hanced early-re­sponse ef­forts. It will re­quire coun­tries to de­velop strong re­sponse plans, and in so do­ing we hope it will also en­cour­age greater global and na­tional in­vest­ments in pre­pared­ness - in­clud­ing in more re­silient na­tional health sys­tems and re­gional sur­veil­lance and de­tec­tion net­works. It will move us away from the much more costly and in­ef­fi­cient cri­sis-to-cri­sis man­age­ment of pan­demics to­ward a smarter, faster, bet­ter­co­or­di­nated and more ef­fec­tive re­sponse when needed.

There is a high prob­a­bil­ity that the world will ex­pe­ri­ence a se­vere out­break in the next 10 to 15 years. Re­cent eco­nomic anal­y­sis sug­gests that the an­nu­al­ized global cost of a mod­er­ately se­vere to se­vere pan­demic is roughly $570 bil­lion, or 0.7 per­cent of global in­come - with over­all cost es­ti­mates of a sin­gle large pan­demic as high as 5 per­cent of global gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, or $4 tril­lion.

The world has wellde­vel­oped global sys­tems to re­spond quickly to other se­cu­rity risks, rang­ing from dis­as­ters to eco­nomic con­ta­gion. Yet pan­demics—the ul­ti­mate con­ta­gion—have been one of the great­est un­man­aged and unin­sured global risks in the world. Un­til now.

We can’t change the speed of a hur­ri­cane or the mag­ni­tude of an earth­quake, but we can change the tra­jec­tory of an out­break. By hav­ing a global sys­tem at the ready to get money to the right place at the right time, we have the po­ten­tial to save thou­sands— even mil­lions—of lives and pro­tect the global econ­omy from tril­lions of dol­lars in losses.

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