Global businesses face huge risks from a new era of epidemics and pandemics that may cause an average annual economic loss of USD 570 billion to the global GDP, posing a threat similar to that from climate change, says a report. In the report on ‘Outbreak Readiness and Business Impact’, Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) Friday said the number and kind of infectious disease outbreaks have increased significantly over the past 30 years. Since 2011, the world has seen nearly 200 epidemic events per year, it noted.
“Pandemics will be the cause of average annual economic losses of 0.7 per cent of global GDP -– or USD 570 billion -– a threat similar in scale to that estimated for climate change in the coming decades,” the WEF said. It suggested companies operating globally should take action to mitigate threats posed by epidemics. The white paper, release by the WEF in collaboration with the Harvard Global Health Institute, said the business risk posed by a new era of epidemic risk can no longer be thought of exclusively in terms of rare but devastating events like global influenza pandemics.
Earlier this week, the WEF’s Global Risks Report 2019 had also flagged concerns over naturally emerging infectious disease threats and risks posed by revolutionary new biotechnologies. The WEF, which will discuss these issues at its annual meeting next week in Swiss resort town Davos in presence of over 3,000 global leaders, said the world remains ill-prepared to detect and respond to outbreaks and is also not prepared to respond to a significant pandemic threat. The Forum, which describes itself as a public-private international cooperation, said its annual meeting will discuss ways to strengthen public-private cooperation for global health security in areas of vaccines, data science, travel, communications, and supply chain and logistics.
“Outbreaks are a top global economic risk and -– like the case for climate change -– large companies can no longer afford to stay on the sidelines,” said Vanessa Candeias, Head of the System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare and Member of Executive Committee at the WEF. “Business leaders need to better understand expected costs of epidemics, mitigate these costs and strengthen health security more broadly,” Candeias said. While potentially catastrophic outbreaks may occur only every few decades, highly disruptive regional and local outbreaks are becoming more common and pose a major threat to lives and livelihoods.
The WEF said one threat is disease and its uncertainty while another is the fear of disease itself or uninformed panic. As seen in past epidemics, health-related misinformation can spread as fast as viruses to undermine or disrupt the overall medical response efforts, it added.