By Asmau Ahmad
The World Bank on Thursday called on countries to increase funding to prevent and contain infectious diseases.
The bank said in a report that the appeal became necessary despite progress made since the Zika and Ebola crises, noting that most countries are still not adequately prepared to contain infectious outbreaks.
The report prepared by the International Working Group on Financing Preparedness (IWG) established by the World Bank, showed that most of the world were doing too little to finance recommended actions to strengthen pandemic preparedness.
According to the report, Nigeria stands to lose about 10 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually, if hit by an infectious outbreak like Ebola. The report, titled “From Panic and Neglect to Investing in Health Security: Financing Pandemic Preparedness at a National Level’’, laid out 12 recommendations to ensure adequate financing and containment of infectious outbreaks.
“Many countries chronically under invest in critical public health functions like disease surveillance, diagnostic laboratories and emergency operations centres, which enable the early identification and containment of outbreaks.
“So far, 37 countries have completed the rigorous peer-reviewed assessments called the Joint External Evaluation (JEE) of their preparedness capacities to identify their gaps and needs. “That leaves 162 countries that have not. Moreover, only two of the countries that have completed this assessment have used the results to devise costed plans,’’ the IWG report said.
The bank therefore urged national governments to prioritise financing preparedness in their domestic budgets, as should international donors. In a video conference, the World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim, said unpreparedness was dangerous as pandemics could strike anywhere and everyone was at risk, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
“We must finally break the cycle of panic and neglect in our response to grave threats from infectious diseases. We have to ensure we are prepared, so the next outbreak does not become the next pandemic. “Failing to invest in preparedness is especially short-sighted given the low cost of preparedness relative to the devastating impact of a pandemic. In low- and middle-income countries that have calculated the cost of financing preparedness, the investment required is about one dollar per person per year,” Yong Kim said.
Similarly, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Mrs Margaret Chan, said that the organisation, since the mid-nineties had been fighting for improved financing in anticipation of pandemics. “Implementing the IWG recommendations will ensure that every country mobilises the resources necessary to prevent, detect and respond to future outbreaks,” Chan said.
Also, the Chair of the IWG, Mr Peter Sands, said preparedness at a national level was the first line of defence against pandemic threats and thus the foundation of universal health security. He said given the scale of risk to human lives and livelihoods, the investment case for financing preparedness was compelling.