Director-General, World Health Organization
People often ask what keeps me awake at night. I answer without hesitating: pandemic flu.
While the current outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has not, at the time of writing, reached pandemic status, it is a stark reminder of how large-scale public health emergencies can result in major loss of life and significant disruption to health systems, economies and societies. No one knows what the final bill will be for COVID-19, but it has already had a severe impact on China’s economy, and on markets and industries globally. Other recent outbreaks teach a similar lesson: the 2014-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic reversed nearly five years of regional investment, gravely setting back the region’s development prospects. The 2003 SARS outbreak led to estimated losses of more than $52 billion USD.
And yet, as a recent report of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board highlighted, most countries remain unprepared for a pandemic, including Commonwealth countries.