The global health community knows that the world is unprepared for the next influenza pandemic. While public health practices have come a long way in terms of preparedness since the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed around 50 million people, we are still far from ready for an outbreak of that scale today.
According to PreventEpidemics.org, more than 100 outbreaks occur daily and can be spread worldwide in just 36 hours because of increased global travel. The cry for better pandemic preparedness is loud (Bill Gates, Margaret Chan, former director of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Robert Redfield, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director) but is only being heard in certain circles; and the global health community needs the message to get out more broadly, especially in the private sector.
The bottom line
Disease outbreaks, even if they only occur within a country or region, affect everyone and negatively impact the global economy. A World Economic Forum/Boston Consulting Group report stated that epidemics have negative impact on the private sector by impacting their employees, customer bases and operations.
The World Bank projects that a large pandemic will cause an average annual economic loss of 0.7 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $570 billion USD. The 2009 H1N1 pandemic resulted in an economic loss of 0.14 percent of GDP, or $1.09 billion USD, and the Ebola epidemic in 2014 resulted in an economic loss of $2.2 billion USD in GDP, threatening macroeconomic stability, food security, human capital development and private sector growth across West Africa.
The private sector is no stranger to making financial contributions for pandemic preparedness and response. In 2014 the private sector contributed $500 million USD to the Ebola outbreak response, and these days the private sector can financially assist in pandemic preparedness through the World Banks’ Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). However, while financial contributions are always needed there are other ways the global health community can engage the private sector to improve pandemic preparedness.
More than money
In 2018, the WHO surveyed member states to assess global pandemic preparedness and found levels of preparedness to be “far from optimal” even among high and middle income countries. Based on these survey results the WHO identified several areas for improvement in regards to preparedness, four of which are particularly advantageous for private sector partnerships.
- Conducting simulation exercises to test pandemic plans
The Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) is one example of a private sector partnership to assist in pandemic preparedness. IDM’s Epidemiological MODeling software simulates the spread of disease to help determine the combination of health policies and intervention strategies that can lead to disease eradication. There are a number of other modeling and simulation tools available for pandemic preparedness, however, some of these tools require financial and/or technical resources not available to a global health organization. Private sector companies that use, or produce modeling software could be favorable partners for testing preparedness plans, since these companies already have the modeling skills to use the software and interpret results.
2. Establishing mechanisms to secure access to vaccines during a pandemic
There are two notable private sector partnerships already working to secure access to vaccines, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) are both working on improving vaccine supply chains and healthcare infrastructure in low-and middle income countries in order to increase access to routine vaccinations, as well as secure access to vaccines during a health emergency.
3. Preparing mechanisms to conduct risk communications and community engagement during a pandemic
There is also potential for collaboration with the private sector in regards to risk communications and community engagement. Social media companies already have platforms to engage large audiences, as well as lucrative business platforms to sell ideas, information and products. Engaging people in preparing for and acting appropriately during a pandemic will require persuading an audience – something social media companies have already mastered.
4. Establishing SOPs to conduct systematic influenza risk assessments using surveillance data
Several consulting companies offer pro bono services, such as Deloitte and PwC. Consulting firms have the business acumen to offer services that could help design effective pandemic SOPs for multilateral organizations, country governments and agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations working on pandemic preparedness.
Building these private sector relationships needs to happen now, and not in the midst of the next outbreak. Mutually beneficial partnerships will ultimately help the private sector, the global health community as well as the entire population when, not if, the next pandemic occurs.