Pandemics active in the world could kill millions of people

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The world faces a growing threat of pandemics that could kill millions of people and wreak havoc on the global economy, warned an international panel of experts, who said governments should work to prepare for and mitigate that risk.

Man wearing a biological suit.

Man wearing a biological suit. / Reference image / Pexels

Reuters | Kate Kelland

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Leer en español: Pandemias activas en el mundo podrían matar millones de personas

A meeting convened by the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that viral diseases prone to epidemics such as Ebola, influenza, and SARS are increasingly difficult to manage in a world dominated by widespread conflict and forced migration.

"The threat of a worldwide pandemic is real," the group said in a report published Wednesday. "A fast-moving pathogen has the potential to kill tens of millions of people, disrupt economies and destabilize national security."

Although some governments and international agencies have made efforts to prepare for the most important diseases since the devastating Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016 in West Africa, those efforts are "extremely insufficient," according to the report.

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Norwegian politician Gro Harlem Brundtland, former co-chair of WHO's board, added that current approaches to health illnesses and emergencies are "characterized by a cycle of panic and neglect."

The report cited the "Spanish flu" of 1918, which killed 50 million people. With the number of people crossing the world by plane every day, an equivalent outbreak could spread across the planet in 36 hours and kill 50 to 80 million people, eliminating almost 5% of the world economy.

In the case of a pandemic, many national health systems would collapse, particularly in poor countries.

"Poverty and fragility exacerbate outbreaks of infectious diseases and help create conditions for pandemics," said Axel van Trotsenburg, interim executive director of the World Bank and a member of the panel.

For his part, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, general director of WHO, asked governments to "attend the lessons that these outbreaks are teaching us" and added that they should invest in strengthening health systems and boosting research funds in new technologies.