The World Isn’t Ready for the Next Outbreak

The Case for a Pandemic Trust Fund

Future pandemics—spurred on by rapid deforestation and climate change—might be even worse than COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest global health crisis in at least a generation, and international organizations have responded accordingly. By building on measures initially developed to counter the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the global community’s response has easily been the most multilateral public health campaign in human history.

By April 2020, for instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) had announced the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a program designed to help develop and improve access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. Other international organizations quickly pioneered new ways to combat the pandemic’s economic impact. The World Bank approved plans to deploy an unprecedented $160 billion in capital, alongside an additional $50 billion in international development funding, and the International Monetary Fund played a vital role in coordinating economic resources for the response. These multilateral efforts are a far cry from the unilateral model used during previous disease outbreaks (the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to take one example). In many ways, COVID-19 marked an important step toward genuine international cooperation.

But even such unprecedented cooperation has been far from adequate to the challenge at hand. The international community has not responded as quickly and completely as necessary—highlighting just how much work remains to be done to set up a truly cooperative multilateral health system. It is now clear that the world needs a permanent institution—developed and maintained during “pandemic peacetime”—built specifically to counter the next outbreak. This global trust fund would have the resources, flexibility, and backing to quickly distribute aid, facilitate cutting-edge research, and accelerate the manufacture of lifesaving interventions. Without such action, the international community will be unprepared for the next, potentially more devastating pandemic.

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