Advancing Global and National Health Security: Lessons from SARS and MERS to Ebola and Zika

Presented by Professor Lawrence Gostin, Linda and Timothy O'Neill Professor of Global Health Law, Georgetown University, Washington DC.

Over the past decade, the world has faced a series of global health crises involving contagious diseases with pandemic potential. From novel influenzas (H5N1 and H1N1), coronaviruses (SARS, and MERS) to the Ebola and Zika viruses, governments and international organisations have struggled to act quickly and decisively. The consequences loom large in both economic and human terms. Modelling by the Institute of Medicine suggests that the economic costs of a 21st-century pandemic could exceed USD$60 billion annually, placing pandemic disease in a category similar to war, terrorism and financial crises. Despite this, global investments in risk mitigation frameworks for pandemic disease remains inadequate and leaves countries exposed to significant disruption, financial harm, and avoidable mortality.

Professor Lawrence Gostin has served on two high-level commissions inquiring into the lessons learned from the 2015 West Africa Ebola epidemic: the Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework (National Academy of Sciences, supported by WHO, World Bank, Gates Foundation, and Rockefeller Foundation), and the Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola (Harvard University/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). In this seminar, Professor Gostin reflected on lessons learned from these and other global commissions into the Ebola epidemic and global health risk framework, with short responses from three Australian experts in the field. In his keynote presentation, Professor Gostin argued that the lessons from past epidemics point to three key drivers of change: national health systems, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UN System reform, and accelerated Research and Development. Each of these drivers of change requires system-wide accountability mechanisms to improve their performance and to reduce the human and economic cost of future epidemics.