Financing Pandemic Preparedness: An Investment in Health Security

Throughout history, pandemics have caused widespread loss across the globe.  Pandemics are usually discussed from a humanitarian point of view as causing massive loss of life, and while this is perhaps the most visible effect of pandemics, it is far from the only one.  Indeed, one of the largest yet less discussed effects of a pandemic is the economic destruction that it wrecks.  From loss of workforce, to treatment cost, to the expense of response and isolation, the outbreak of a pandemic can easily cost a country millions of dollars, if not more.  However, according to a new report by the International Working Group [IWG] on Financing Preparedness at the World Bank entitled, “From Panic and Neglect to Investing in Health Security: Financing Pandemic Preparedness at a National Level,” pandemic preparedness measures taken before any sort of outbreak ultimately cost a country far less than any type of haphazard response to a pandemic that has already begun.

Peter Sands, of the Harvard Kennedy School and Chair of the IWG, prefaces the report by characterizing the world’s “investments in pandemic preparedness and response” as “woefully inadequate.”  Sands also indicates that,

In the wake of Ebola, a number of commissions and panels made recommendations about how the world could be better prepared to prevent, identify, contain, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. All these reviews […] agreed on three key priorities: strengthening preparedness at a national level; improving coordination and capabilities at a regional and global level; and accelerating R&D [Research and Development] in this arena.

In response, “many countries have signed up for external evaluations of their preparedness and response systems, signaling a welcome openness and willingness to collectively identify problem areas and explore solutions,” says Sands.  However, he also states that countries could become “rapidly disillusioned” if no money is available to help them implement plans created in response to the assessments.

Understandably, says Sands, “[g]overnments struggle to reconcile limited resources with many competing priorities,” and “[h]ealth does not always rank as one of the top budget priorities, and within health spending, pandemic preparedness is often overlooked in favor of more immediate and visible goals.” Because of this, the IWG on Financing Preparedness was created in November 2016 and seeks to,

propose ways in which national governments and development partners can ensure adequate and sustainable financing for actions to strengthen pandemic preparedness and thus enable effective compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR) as well as World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards.

Furthermore, Sands indicates that,

Our primary focus is on the prevention, identification, and containment of infectious disease outbreaks, so we have concentrated on the financing of critical capacities such as disease surveillance systems, laboratory networks, and emergency operations centers, as well as “One Health” initiatives designed to protect people from pathogens in the animal population. We also recognize the crucial importance of supporting health systems strengthening as a key investment in preparedness.

When one considers that, ” a pandemic could destroy over 1.0 percent of global GDP, comparable to other global threats such as climate change” and that, “[i]n countries where there is a reasonably comprehensive and well-functioning underlying health system, which would include a number of low-income and many middle-income countries, financing improved preparedness might cost less than $1 per person per year,” it is clear that, taken preemptively, pandemic prevention measures cost a country far less in lives and money, and ultimately help save those who might be put at risk by an outbreak.

For more information on pandemics and their bearing on homeland security, check out the Pandemic Influenza Featured Topic at the Homeland Security Digital Library.