Press release

£3bn a year needed to prepare the world for future pandemics

An investment of less than 50p per year for every person on the planet (£3bn/$4.5bn total) would make the world significantly more resilient to the threat of infectious disease, according to a group of international experts convened in the wake of the Ebola crisis.

The report of the Commission on Creating a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future, published today, highlights infectious diseases as one of the biggest risks facing humankind. It estimates that pandemics cost the world more than £40bn ($60bn) each year, and match wars and natural disasters in their capacity to endanger human life and health and disrupt societies.

Yet compared with other high-profile threats to human and economic security – such as war, terrorism, nuclear disasters, natural catastrophes and financial crises – preparation for pandemics has received chronic under-investment.

The Commission recommends that urgent action be taken during 2016 to increase private, philanthropic and government spending on pandemic preparedness. It lays out comprehensive recommendations for bolstering the world’s ability to prevent and prepare for future disease outbreaks, including:

  • reinforcing national public health capabilities and infrastructure as the first line of defence against potential pandemics, especially in low-income countries
  • establishing a permanent WHO Center for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response, with sustainable funding and operational independence, which would lead and co-ordinate defences and action against pandemic threats
  • accelerating research and development in the infectious disease arena, through annual global investment of at least £686m ($1bn) a year in prevention and treatment of threats, and a co-ordinating body to prioritise and oversee this.

The Wellcome Trust sponsored the creation of the Commission and the report, in partnership with seven other philanthropic and government organisations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, in response to the Ebola outbreak that began in 2014. It was coordinated by the US National Academy of Medicine.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Commission's International Oversight Group, said:

"Few global events match epidemics and pandemics in potential to disrupt human security and inflict loss of life and economic and social damage. 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.

"Today's report shows that by spending the equivalent of around 40p a year for every person on the planet, we could make our world much safer against the threat of infectious disease outbreaks.

"The cornerstones of the proposed framework must be the creation of a strong, independent WHO Center to lead outbreak preparedness and response, and an expert body to galvanise the research and development of vaccines, therapies, diagnostics and other tools.

"While the WHO has already taken welcome steps to improve co-ordination of health emergency preparedness and response, the report rightly recommends further change, with a central body that is a permanent part of the WHO system and that has considerable operational independence and a sustainable budget.

"The report is also right to recommend the creation of a WHO expert committee to inspire, support and oversee research and development into vaccines, drugs and other countermeasures. This would allow this essential field to benefit from the legitimacy and authority of the WHO, while ensuring that investment decisions are made by people with the expertise to judge health need and scientific merit. This panel could act as a convening and co-ordinating body that linked parallel efforts to finance and prioritise research and development in specialised fields such as vaccines, drug-resistant infections and personal protective equipment.

"The Commission should be congratulated on an excellent report, with recommendations that are clear, necessary and achievable. What we need to see now is action. 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."