Prevention better than cure: Why World Bank bats for One Health to combat pandemics

Report finds cost of prevention a third of fighting off pandemic as pace of emerging infectious outbreaks increase

By Taran Deol
Published: Wednesday 26 October 2022
The cost of managing a pandemic is around $30.1 billion per year. Photo: iStock
The cost of managing a pandemic is around $30.1 billion per year. Photo: iStock The cost of managing a pandemic is around $30.1 billion per year. Photo: iStock

Investing in One Health is the way forward in preventing, instead of fighting, the next global pandemic, claimed a report released by the World Bank. A One Health approach integrates the health of people, wildlife and the environment and can help end the cycle of devastating outbreaks. 

The report, Putting Pandemics Behind Us: Investing in One Health to Reduce Risks of Emerging Infectious Diseases, was released October 24. It estimated an annual expenditure to implement a One Health approach to be between $10.3 billion (Rs 84,856 crore) to $11.5 billion. 

Read more: Big push for One Health: FAO, UNEP, WHO, Animal health body lay out plan

While it is a monumental amount, it dwarfs in comparison to the cost of managing a pandemic, which hovers around the $30.1 billion per year mark, as per estimates made recently by the intergovernmental G20 Joint Finance and Health Taskforce.

The pace of emerging infectious disease (EID) outbreaks has increased at an average annual rate of 6.7 per cent from 1980 onwards and the number of outbreaks has grown to several hundred per year since 2000, the report said. 

“This is largely due to humans extending their global footprint, altering natural habitats, and accelerating the spillover of animal microbes into human populations,” it noted. 

Some 75 per cent of these outbreaks are zoonotic events — which means they jump from animals to humans. With increased interaction between the two, the volatility of EID outbreaks has increased. It’s resulting in more than 1 billion human infections and 1 million deaths each year, the World Bank report said. 

Prevention is better than cure, said World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships Mari Pangestu in a press note. 

Pangestu said: 

COVID-19 has shown that a pandemic risk anywhere becomes a pandemic risk everywhere. The economic case for One Health is powerful — the cost of prevention is extremely modest compared to the cost of managing and responding to pandemics.

The World Bank report described pandemic prevention as a global public good. “It is non-excludable (no country can prevent others from benefitting) and non-rival (one country benefitting does not limit the extent to which other countries can benefit),” it said.

The report details a three-pronged approach to make headway in implementing a One Health approach to prevent a potential pandemic. The first is timing — if there is anything the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, the moment is ripe to work towards mitigating emerging infectious diseases. 

The second is the cost. The large proposed amount of between $10.3 billion to $11.5 billion per year is divided into $2.1 billion per year to bring public veterinary services up to international standards, $5 billion to improve farm biosecurity, and $3.2-$4.4 billion to reduce deforestation in higher risk countries. 

And lastly, the approach has other benefits for sustainable development.

Read more: World Health Summit: Global agreement on health need of the hour, says WHO

The One Health Investment Framework for national, regional and global stakeholders to adopt has five core principles for funding. 

These principles are: 

  • Adopting an integrated One Health multisectoral approach that aims to sustainably balance the health of people, animals, and ecosystems
  • Prioritising prevention, a most overlooked component of health security
  • Complying with existing minimum standards that are relevant for One Health
  • Focusing on geographical locations with higher risks of spillover at the human-animal-ecosystem interfaces
  • Reducing risks of spillovers in forests (or wildlife habitat), farms (livestock), and sprawling urban areas

The World Bank noted the cost of inaction is higher than everything else, calling it an investment in humanity’s future.

“Benefits for sustainable development include reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, climate adaptation, improved food safety and nutrition, reduced economic burden from animal diseases, increased access to markets and strengthening the resilience of health systems by boosting awareness and multisectoral action,” the report noted. 

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