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This Is a Global Threat as Big as Climate Change

Thursday, January 14, 2016

This morning, I delivered keynote remarks at the release event for the Global Health Risk Framework Commission report on “The Neglected Dimension of Global Security: A Framework to Counter Infectious Disease Crises.”  The commission, sponsored by the National Academy of Medicine and chaired by Peter Sands, has delivered a very important report on what I think is the issue with the highest ratio of seriousness to policy preparation in the global system. Indeed, for reasons I sketched in my remarks, I believe the threat to global well-being from pandemics over the next century is comparable to the threat from global climate change.
I began by expanding on why I think pandemics are such an important issue. The global mortality rate from the flu pandemic of 1918 was 7,000 times as large as from the recent Ebola outbreak. AIDS profoundly changed the human experience in Africa. No one knows the probability of a recurrence of these kinds of disasters. History is too short to permit reliable estimates and in any event conditions are rapidly changing because of scientific improvements on the one hand, and huge increases in global interconnection on the other.

In the context of the Global Health 2035 report that Dean Jamison and I developed, we considered the economic benefit of mortality reduction using approaches derived from economic theory. We noted that the well established fact that people demand higher pay to accept riskier jobs demonstrates that reduced mortality risk has economic value. And we further showed that these benefits are very large relative to standard estimates of the economic impact of health interventions.

In related work, Dean, Victoria Fan and I calculate the potential cost of a 1918 flu recurrence, discounted by its chance of happening. We expect to publish this work soon. On plausible assumptions, we find an expected flu cost approaching $1 trillion a year going forward into the 21st century. This underscores the urgency of doing all that can be done to counter pandemic risks.

Source: The Washington Post (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
infectious diseases
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