A global pandemic could travel anywhere in the world in 36 hours – and kill up to 80 million people

 ·18 Sep 2019

A new study has warned that there is a growing risk of a global pandemic breaking out – and the world is not prepared to handle the dire consequences.

This was one of the major findings in a new report released by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), an independent monitoring and accountability body that tracks the preparedness for global health crises.

While scientific and technological developments provide new tools that advance public health (including safely assessing medical countermeasures), they also allow for disease-causing micro-organisms to be engineered or recreated in laboratories, the GPMB said.

“A deliberate release would complicate outbreak response; in addition to the need to decide how to counter the pathogen, security measures would come into play limiting information-sharing and fomenting social divisions,” it said.

“Taken together, naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate events caused by high-impact respiratory pathogens pose global catastrophic biological risks”.


The world would not be prepared for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic, the GPMB said.

It noted that the 1918 global influenza pandemic sickened one-third of the world population and killed as many as 50 million people – 2.8% of the total population at the time.

“If a similar contagion occurred today- with a population four times larger and travel times anywhere in the world taking less than 36 hours, 50-80 million people could perish,” it said.

“In addition to tragic levels of mortality, such a pandemic could cause panic, destabilise national security and seriously impact the global economy and trade.”


In addition to the human factor, the GPMB said that there are severe financial costs associated with diseases outbreaks.

Estimated costs of past events include:

  • A loss of over $40 billion in productivity from the 2003 SARS epidemic;
  • $53 billion loss from the economic and social impact of the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak;
  • The $45 to 55 billion cost of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

“The World Bank estimates that a global influenza pandemic akin to the scale and virulence of the one in 1918 would cost the modern economy $3 trillion, or up to 4.8% of gross domestic product (GDP),” the GPMB said.

“The cost would be 2.2% of GDP for even a moderately virulent influenza pandemic.

“Models predict the annual cost of a global influenza pandemic would mean that South Asia’s GDP would drop by 2% (US$ 53 billion), and sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP by 1.7% (US$ 28 billion), the latter equivalent to erasing a full year’s economic growth.”

Read: South Africa’s NHI pilot projects were not a failure: health minister

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter