G-20 Panel Calls for Doubling Spending to Avert Pandemics

Travelers wearing protective masks walk through Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. (Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg)

G-20 Panel Calls for Doubling Spending to Avert Pandemics

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The world’s major economies need to boost investment by at least $75 billion over five years to prepare for future pandemics and avert potential health and economic catastrophes, according to an independent panel established by the Group of 20 nations.

The panel proposed additional annual financing of $15 billion to set up a Global Health Threats Fund and to increase support for the World Health Organization and other institutions. That’s double current spending and more than governments have been willing to pay, but a tiny fraction of the possible costs the planet could face, according to a statement Friday.

Increasing pandemic risks pose a “clear and present danger,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a panel co-chair and director-general of the World Trade Organization, said in the statement.

Covid-19 has exposed gaps in international efforts to prevent and contain outbreaks, prompting calls to ramp up investment, expand surveillance and accelerate work on new vaccines before the next crisis hits. The G-20 report is the latest in a series of such warnings. As devastating as Covid-19 has been, disease experts worry future emergencies could be far worse. A study led by Harvard professors David Cutler and Lawrence Summers last year put the cost of the pandemic at more than $16 trillion.

‘Buying Amazon’

Investing tens of billions of dollars to avoid tens of trillions of dollars in costs is “the public-sector equivalent of buying Amazon in the 1990s,” Summers, the former U.S. Treasury secretary and another panel co-chair, said at a news conference. “It offers immense returns and will be profoundly regretted by any who miss the opportunity.”

In May, an independent panel set up by the WHO proposed an International Pandemic Financing Facility to secure as much as $10 billion a year to fund preparedness measures after determining that a series of failures, gaps and delays allowed the coronavirus to run rampant.

Also part of the plan unveiled Friday is a health threats board that would bring together finance and health ministers and international groups. The panel called for a “fundamental shift” toward greater multilateral financing for global health security, including a revamped and strengthened WHO.

“We must do better going forward to prepare for emerging pandemic threats and reduce the damage wrought,” Summers said in the statement. “No less than our future global and national security is at stake.”

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