Pandemics. Just the word is enough to strike fear in the hearts of many. They are a significant threat to our global health security, economic security and ability to end extreme poverty around the world. They also hinder the ability to achieve sustainable development goals.

Outbreaks of disease are unfortunately inevitable in many parts of the world, but if they are addressed promptly pandemics are often preventable. What makes this easy is having money at the right time to save both lives and economies in many countries around the globe.

The recent Ebola crisis in parts of West Africa is a perfect example of why having funds supplied promptly is so essential. With no quick disbursement of significant funds, especially in nations with constrained resources, epidemic outbreaks simply cannot be tackled effectively and stopped before they escalate even further.

Under the present system, global financial aid is not supplied until major outbreaks are already at the point where they are ready to explode. With no strong system in place to tackle outbreaks before they get this severe, the planet just keeps moving from one crisis to the next.

The World Bank’s response

In the wake of the horrendous Ebola crisis, the World Bank worked with expert panels to investigate what more could be done, and how financial support could be provided in a more expedient manner in the wake of potential pandemics.

It has been recognised that the financing gap is especially critical at the early stages of an outbreak, and that assistance must be provided when the crisis level is set to rise. To this end, the World Bank is partnering with the World Health Organisation and other private and public sector partners to develop a Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility.

This new campaign will enable them to provide a significant surge of funding in a much quicker manner for response efforts that help prevent the spread of rare, severe diseases. It will also provide aid to qualified international agencies involved in the response to a major outbreak in the affected countries. This will aim to stop them before they are even more deadly and costly.

The pandemic problem

Sadly, pandemics are one of the biggest uninsured risks in the world today. Experts have even estimated there is a significant chance that a severe outbreak will occur in the next 10 to 15 years, which will destabilise societies and their economies.

The shocking global cost of a moderate to severe outbreak at the moment is $570 billion (£400 billion), or approximately 0.7% of global income. Think back to the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918; a pandemic that size would today cost approximately 5% of the global economy.

Who will benefit

Lower income nations will benefit from this new pandemic funding initiative; those with weaker health systems that are more vulnerable to outbreaks and less able to cope with the consequences.

Financing for the initiative will come from the IDA, a World Bank Group fund designated for the poorest countries on earth. It will come in part from insurance and in part from cash, obtaining funding from resources such as the reinsurance market and proceed from catastrophe bonds.

It will cover the outbreak of infectious diseases like Influenza A, B and C, SARS, MERS, Ebola and Marburg. It will also cover outbreaks of zoonotic diseases such as Crimean Congo, Rift Valley and Lassa fever.

The maximum coverage available will be $500 million (£350 millions) for 3 years. There will also be a replenishable cash window at $50 to $100 million US dollars.

The Goal

The essential goal of this new World Bank initiative is that quicker provisions of resources will translate to stemming outbreaks before they reach pandemic proportions. Financing will be triggered when outbreaks in the poorest nations reaches specific criteria related to their severity.

The Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility is expected to be up and running by late 2016.


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