Governments need to spend at least $75bn over five years in a global push to avert future pandemics, according to a report presented to finance ministers and central bankers from the G20 group of nations on Friday.
A substantial increase in international funding for public health, on top of existing spending, will be essential to reset a “dangerously underfunded system”, the report warned.
“We are completely unprepared. The system is set up to fail, and it will fail,” said Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s former finance minister, who led the report together with former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The report is backed by senior bankers, economists and policymakers who were tasked by the G20 in January with finding ways to organise finance to make the world less vulnerable to pandemics. Policy measures based on the report could be put to G20 ministers in October.
The most urgent goal for the international community is to speed up the supply of vaccines and other medical essentials to countries that are struggling to secure them, the report found; it is also necessary to plan for Covid-19 to become endemic.
Shanmugaratnam compared existing global defences against health crises with a financial system with no agreed international standards on capital buffers or liquidity, no stress-testing or supervision, no deposit insurance and no mechanisms for early warning or rescue.
The report urged world leaders to commit $10bn a year to a new Global Health Threats Fund that could support surveillance and research, and spur investments through public private philanthropic partnerships to ensure a rapid, global supply of vaccines, tests, treatments and personal protective equipment.
This would mean a big increase in the capacity to manufacture and deliver critical medical supplies across different geographies, with technologies that would make it possible to scale up production rapidly to meet the surge in demand during a pandemic.
There should also be a new governance arrangement, bringing together health and finance ministers and modelled on the Financial Stability Board that was set up after the global financial crisis.
A further $5bn a year would be used to strengthen the World Health Organization and channel funds for pandemic preparedness through the World Bank, IMF and regional lenders — which would be given a stronger mandate to invest in global public goods, such as health and climate.
While the proposals were conceived as a defence against future pandemics, the long delays in delivering coronavirus vaccines to the developing world mean the current crisis could in practice merge into later ones, the report’s authors said.
“The world is nowhere near the end of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Okonjo-Iweala. “We must move aggressively and immediately . . . to end this deadly crisis as soon as possible, while simultaneously scaling up efforts now to thwart the growing risk of future pandemics ― which represent a clear and present danger.”