‘Adaptation’ and ‘mitigation’ can reduce impacts of global pandemics

Mitigation programmes can save nearly US $360 billion over the next 100 years, says new study

By Vijay Ravikumar
Published: Tuesday 16 December 2014


Pandemics are on the rise across the world and the economic damage due to emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) is growing exponentially. To deal with the problem, a new study has proposed that as with climate change, governments can address the rising pandemics "adaptively" and "mitigatively".

The study, published in journal PNAS, further explains that the problem can be dealt "adaptively" by using technology to reduce the impact of a pathogen once it emerges or "mitigatively" by taking conscious steps to prevent the emergence of harmful pathogens in the first place.

But unlike with climate change, we are still within the window of opportunity for the global community to work together to stem the worst affects of rising pandemic threats, suggests the paper by Jamison Pike from Department of Economics and Finance, College of Business, University of Wyoming, US and his team.

Mitigation better than adaptation

For the study, researchers first used financial modelling of current globally-coordinated adaptation strategies for pandemic prevention. They found that such options can be implemented within the next 27 years to reduce the annual rise of emerging infectious disease events by 50 per cent at an estimated one-time cost of approximately US $343.7 billion. However, when the team analysed the cost of mitigation programmes, they found that because most of the pandemics have animal origins, mitigation is a more cost-effective policy and saves between US $344 billion and US $360 billion over the next 100 years, if implemented today.

According to the study, it is already established that there has been a significant increase in EIDs over the last 50 years, most likely due to land-use change, international trade, population growth, and intensified agriculture. In India, for example, there has been a well documented rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which has been linked to the widespread overuse of antibiotics in livestock feed.

India, however, is not unique in this respect as across the globe, majority of pandemics begin in a population of livestock or wildlife, and later make the species-crossing jump to humans.

A single influenza pandemic is estimated to cost anywhere from US $374 billion to US $7.3 trillion. Only a fraction of EIDs lead to pandemics, and most mitigation strategies focus on reducing the rise of new EIDs.  The study also strongly recommends investing in mitigation strategies that target animal-to-human disease transfers, or "zoonoses". Farm biosecurity, for example, is a highly effective investment, given that intensified agricultural activity, when poorly managed, correlates strongly with the rise of new strains of pathogens and an increased chance of zoonosis.

An effective policy targetting zoonotic  EID could act as a double-edged sword as zoonoses account for an increasing percentage of EIDs worldwide, and programs targetting zoonotic EIDs are comparatively less expensive to implement.

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