World Bank recommends improved funding against infectious diseases

The World Bank has called on countries to increase funding in order 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 countries are not doing enough in financing  the recommended actions that curb epidemics .

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 centers, 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 says.

The bank therefore urged national governments to prioritize financing preparedness in their domestic budgets, as should international donors.

In a video conference, the World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim, said unpreparedness is dangerous as pandemics could strike anywhere and everyone is at risk. “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 Organization, Mrs. Margaret Chan, said that the organization has been fighting for improved financing in anticipation of pandemics, since the mid-nineties .

She explained that implementing the IWG recommendations will  make countries mobilize the necessary resources to prevent or respond effectively to future outbreaks .

Also, the Chairman of the IWG, Mr. Peter Sands, said preparedness at a national level is the first line of defense against pandemic threats and thus the foundation of universal health security,adding that the investment case for financing preparedness is compelling.

He said in the last 30 years there has been an increase in frequency and diversity of disease outbreaks. An example, is seen in the recent resurfacing of Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congofor the eighth time with four possible deaths and 43 possible cases identified as at May 23. Importantly, DRC has had a strong track record of containing previous outbreaks,’’ Sands said.

The bank called for an increase in tax to GDP ratio to about 20 per cent; Nigeria’s tax to GDP ratio being currently at about six per cent.

According to the bank, the rationale is that increased tax revenue will encourage government to improve funding for health security.