World / Science & Health

Efforts against pandemics that could kill tens of millions 'grossly insufficient,' WHO and World Bank report says

Reuters

The world faces a mounting threat of pandemics that could kill millions and wreak economic havoc, a international expert panel warns, saying governments should work to mitigate that risk.

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, convened by the World Bank and the World Health Organization, said in a report released on Wednesday that epidemic-prone viral diseases like Ebola, flu and SARS are increasingly tough to manage in a world dominated by lengthy conflicts, fragile states and forced migration.

“The threat of a pandemic spreading around the globe is a real one,” the group said. “A quick-moving pathogen has the potential to kill tens of millions of people, disrupt economies and destabilize national security.”

Although some governments and international agencies have made efforts to be vigilant and prepare for major disease outbreaks since the devastating 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, those efforts are “grossly insufficient,” the report said.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former WHO head who co-chaired the board, added that current approaches to disease and health emergencies are “characterized by a cycle of panic and neglect.”

The report cited the 1918 pandemic of Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 50 million people. With vast numbers of people crossing the world on planes every day, an equivalent airborne outbreak now could spread globally in less than 36 hours and kill an estimated 50 million to 80 million people, wiping out nearly 5 percent of the global economy, it said.

In the case of a pandemic, many national health systems — particularly in poor countries — would collapse.

“Poverty and fragility exacerbate outbreaks of infectious disease and help create the conditions for pandemics to take hold,” said Axel van Trotsenburg, acting chief executive of the World Bank and a member of the panel.

Calling on governments to “heed the lessons these outbreaks are teaching us” and to “fix the roof before the rain comes,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said they should invest in strengthening health systems, boost funds for research into new technologies, improve coordination and rapid communication systems, and monitor progress continually.

The WHO warned earlier this year that another pandemic of the flu — which is caused by airborne viruses — is inevitable, and said the world should prepare for it.

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