The currently unknown next outbreak, which has been designated the name Disease X by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has the potential to creep up on humanity and wipe out large swathes of the population in a similar fashion to the Spanish Flu, which killed off five percent of the global population, and Russian Flu, which wiped out a million Europeans. The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) has now warned that a major disease could spread in as little as 36 hours and wipe out 80 million people. Researchers involved in the study have given past examples of how the disease could creep up on humanity, such as the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016.
During the Ebola outbreak, almost 12,000 people died, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with most of the fatalities coming in West Africa.
The report reads: “While disease has always been part of the human experience, a combination of global trends, including insecurity and extreme weather, has heightened the risk.
“Disease thrives in disorder and has taken advantage – outbreaks have been on the rise for the past several decades and the spectre of a global health emergency looms large.
“If it is true to say ‘what’s past is prologue’, then there is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5 percent of the world’s economy.
“A global pandemic on that scale would be catastrophic, creating widespread havoc, instability and insecurity.
“The world is not prepared.”
The report goes on to state that the most severely effected group will be those from poorer countries will be most effected, as they will likely not have access to a health system.
The study: “Outbreaks hit lower-resourced communities much harder given their lack of access to basic health services, clean water and sanitation; this will aggravate the spread of any infectious pathogen.
“Disease amplifiers, including population growth and resulting strains on the environment, climate change, dense urbanisation, exponential increases in international travel and migration, both forced and voluntary, increase the risk for everyone, everywhere.”
The researchers give seven actions for leaders to undertake, in full:
1. Heads of Government to commit to preparedness by fully implementing the International Health Regulations, and increasing investment in preparedness as an integral part of national and international security;
2. G7, G20, G77 Member Countries and regional intergovernmental organisations to follow through on their funding and political commitments for preparedness and regularly monitor progress at annual meetings;
3. All countries to build strong preparedness systems, with heads of government appointing a high-level coordinator to lead efforts across all government departments and sectors, to prioritise community involvement and to routinely conduct multisectoral simulation exercises;
4. Countries, donors and multilateral institutions to prepare for worst-case scenario of a fast-moving pandemic due to a virulent respiratory pathogen by scaling-up research and development for new vaccines and medicines, surge manufacturing capacity and rapid information sharing systems;
5. The IMF, World Bank Group, and international financing organisations to integrate preparedness into their replenishments, national and international financial risk assessments, incentive systems and funding mechanisms;
6. Development assistance funders to create incentives and increase funding for preparedness to fill financing gaps for the poorest and most vulnerable countries and Member States to increase their contributions to WHO for its preparedness and response support to counties and a sustainable Contingency Fund for Emergencies; and
7. The United Nations to strengthen preparedness and epidemic response coordination at the international level.
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, co-chair of the GPMB, said now is the time to take action: “For too long, world leaders’ approaches to health emergencies have been characterised by a cycle of panic and neglect.
“It is high time for urgent and sustained action. This must include increased funding at the community, national and international levels to prevent the spread of outbreaks.
“It also requires leaders to take proactive steps to strengthen preparedness coordination mechanisms across governments and society to respond quickly to an emergency.”