Pandemic prevention and preparedness
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark realisation the vulnerability of our population and economy to major global human infectious disease threats.
With the tragedy and suffering from over 1.2 million COVID-19 deaths to date, and estimates of US$28 trillion in lost economic output by the end of 2025, the potential scale of any future threat will be immense and devastating on many levels. Australia is needlessly exposed and must act now to minimise the impact of inevitable future pandemics that will again place the health and prosperity of our nation at risk.
In June 2020, the World Bank released a baseline forecast of a 5.2 percent contraction in global GDP in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 – ‘the deepest global recession in eight decades, despite unprecedented policy support’. The devastating and destructive social and economic impacts of the pandemic will be both profound and protracted, with massive disruption to labour markets, millions of people at risk of undernourishment and falling into extreme poverty, and millions of enterprises facing an existential threat. The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook predicted US$28 trillion in lost output by the end of 2025.
The impact has been exacerbated by the lack of globally coordinated pandemic preparedness, despite the known threat evidenced by previous outbreaks (including Spanish flu, Hong Kong flu, swine flu, bird flu, Nipah, Ebola, SARS and MERS).
In its second annual report, A World in Disorder, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board referred to the global COVID-19 response as ‘a collective failure to take pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response seriously and prioritize it accordingly.’ The report noted that it would take 500 years to spend as much on preparedness as the world is currently losing economically due to COVID-19.6 The current pandemic highlights the need for urgent health and economic policy action – including global cooperation – cushion its consequences, protect vulnerable populations, and improve capacity to prevent and cope with similar events in the future.
Beyond the threat of viral diseases, the withdrawal of global pharmaceutical companies from antibiotic development in the 1980s, combined with the increasing prevalence of bacterial antibiotic resistance, has severely eroded the capacity to effectively prevent and treat infections caused by bacterial pathogens, leading to increasing numbers of infection-related deaths in the Australian population. Driven by antimicrobial resistance, infectious diseases will become the leading underlying cause of human mortality in Australia by 2050. A UK review estimated that the continued rise in antibiotic resistance will lead to an additional 10 million deaths per year globally, a reduction of 2% to 3.5% in GDP, and cost the world up to US$100 trillion by 2050.