By Sir Richard Feachem and Dr Gavin Yamey, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sir Richard Feachem is director of the Global Health Group at the University of California, San Francisco. Gavin Yamey is an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco and leads the Evidence to Policy Initiative in the Global Health Group. The views expressed are their own.
It’s been nearly 100 years since San Francisco was hit by the flu epidemic that swept the world and eventually claimed 50 million lives. In February 1919, the United States Public Health Service released data showing that San Francisco suffered the most of all major American cities, with a death rate approaching 30 deaths per 1,000 people.
In today’s era of mass, rapid international transit, and in the face of rising rates of “spillover” of animal infections into humans, concern is growing that the world could soon face an even deadlier global flu pandemic. The terrifying reality is that the world is shockingly under-prepared.
The 1918 flu pandemic reminds us how interconnected we are as a planet. The only way that we can adequately prepare for public health emergencies like a flu pandemic is through international collective action. With global health threats, we all win together, or we all lose together.
In a new report that we co-authored and launched at the University of California, San Francisco this week, we lay out a plan of collective action called “Global Health 2035,” aimed at tackling these global threats and at dramatically improving human health within a generation. It is a forward-looking global health investment plan for the next generation – one that re-thinks the approach to the way aid is delivered, and ensures that lives are saved.
Our plan is bold, but entirely feasible, and it would greatly protect and improve global health. The plan will require all countries, rich and poor, to come together to make collective commitments, provide collective financing, and take collective action. If the right investments were made today, by 2035 we could:
1) Tackle global threats like pandemic flu, antibiotic resistance, and drug-resistant forms of TB—by developing new treatments, vaccines, and diagnostics and strengthening national and international surveillance systems.
2) Reduce infectious, maternal and child deaths by investing in and aggressively scaling up proven health technologies to achieve what we call a “grand convergence” in global health—that is, a reduction in these deaths to universally low levels.
3) Sharply reduce deaths from chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease—through international action to curb risk factors (“global public bads”) like smoking and consumption of junk food.
For the first time in human history, our generation has the collective financial and ever-improving scientific capacity to get the job done. Today’s low- and middle-income countries are on course to experience profound economic growth over the next two decades. If they commit to using just 1 percent of this GDP growth to support public health, they could finance a grand convergence almost entirely without external aid.
And what role should the United States and other aid donors play? We argue for a new kind of aid – less focused on giving money directly to countries and more focused on providing global public goods and on managing cross-border health threats.
This new kind of aid would mean stepped up commitments to funding health research and development to find better treatments for diseases of poverty, such as childhood diarrhea and pneumonia, which together killed around 2 million children in 2011. It would put a bigger focus on sharing lessons learned on how best to curtail the bad habits that lead to poor health, such as through taxing tobacco or ending subsidies on fossil fuels. This new aid would also build and strengthen global abilities to track disease threats.
Only through this kind of international collective action can we achieve common health goals for all humankind.