Over the past decade, Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), pandemic influenza and the Zika virus have each demonstrated the extraordinary health, economic and security risks associated with infectious disease outbreaks.
According to World Bank estimates, the annual global cost of moderately severe to severe pandemics is roughly $570 billion, or 0.7% of global income. Notably, most economic losses are not typically caused by the disease directly but rather by consumer reactions, labour and equipment shortages, and cascading failures in tourism, retail, financial and other sectors.
Further, infectious disease outbreaks are likely to become ever more complex and challenging. By 2050, the world’s population will have risen to 9.7 billion. A combination of high population density, poverty, changes in social structures and a lack of public health infrastructure will create progressively more favourable conditions for communicable diseases. Meanwhile, the increasing transnational flow of commodities, people and animals will magnify the transmission of these diseases.
Responses to past outbreaks have featured a range of innovative partnerships among businesses and civil society to complement the official response. However, although there are many instructive success stories relating to public-private cooperation to support outbreak response, efforts in this regard have typically been ad hoc, limited to traditional partners and largely initiated only after the outbreak has substantially evolved. Cooperation has also generally been challenged by uncertainty relating to communication and coordination, sometimes to the detriment of the response overall. Accordingly, past experience indicates interesting opportunities for optimization in advance of the next outbreak, especially considering that public-private cooperation is essential to an effective global response.
As the international institution for public-private cooperation, the World Economic Forum is committed to leveraging its partnership platforms for a multifaceted, coordinated approach to more effectively prepare for, and respond to, infectious disease outbreaks with regional and global health, security and economic implications.
The project is comprised of three primary work streams.
Epidemics Readiness Accelerator
The Epidemics Readiness Accelerator addresses pressing challenges associated with public-private cooperation relied on for effective global response to outbreaks.
Specifically, the Epidemics Readiness Accelerator provides a platform for the public and private sector, as well as civil society, to work collaboratively to address significant roadblocks in the global outbreak response architecture. It convenes key stakeholders, providing organizational, technical and analytical support and, where appropriate, facilitating resource mobilization.
In particular, the Accelerator addresses challenges to essential public-private cooperation by designing and implementing solutions that can be reliably integrated into current plans, procedures and mechanisms for global outbreak response.
The Accelerator is addressing challenges relating to the following areas:
Incentivizing Development of New Antimicrobials Against Drug-Resistant Infections
- Travel and Tourism
- Legal and Regulatory
- Supply Chain and Logistics
- Data Innovations
Despite the tangible threat of existing antibiotics becoming ineffective against resistant organisms, there remains insufficient public and private investment in research and development on developing new drugs to tackle antimicrobial resistance.
The Forum is engaging representatives from the public and private sectors to advance the dialogue and define options for the most appropriate mechanisms to encourage the development of new drugs that tackle drug-resistant infections.
Outbreak Readiness and Business Insight Tool
Together with partners, this project will produce a first-of-its-kind “dashboard” to enable companies to visualize estimates of expected costs to their business associated with infectious disease outbreaks.
While predicting where and when the next outbreak will occur is still an evolving science, it is possible to identify factors that make companies more or less vulnerable to suffering financial losses from infectious disease events. Factors such as the geographic location of companies’ workforces, customer base and supply chains, along with the nature and structure of their business can all help inform estimates of their vulnerability to disease outbreaks.
Helping companies properly understand their risks will enable them to take action to reduce their exposure and improve their resilience to infectious disease crises, including by pursuing public-private cooperation to strengthen global health security more broadly.