Wanted: renewed partnership to fight infectious disease

OECD Observer

The current concerns about severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) serve as a stern reminder of the potential impact of infectious diseases, bringing home to us the economic as well as the human costs.

Since WHO issued its first SARS alert on 12 March, 17 countries have been affected, over 100 people have died and nearly 3,000 people have been infected. The indirect effect of SARS on normal day to day life in affected areas and on the economy of Hong Kong in particular has of course been much wider.

However, so far at least, SARS is still an emerging disease with relatively modest impact on human life. And to the extent that health authorities worldwide mostly have responded quickly to the challenges thrown at them – thanks in no small amount to WHO’s surveillance networks – we can take heart in the fact that our global defense systems can work.

But this is by no means so for all emerging infectious diseases. Worldwide, infectious diseases remain the leading cause of mortality, with 17 million deaths each year. Since the 1970s at least 30 new infectious diseases have emerged for which no effective treatment exists. And in this modern world, diseases can spread further and faster than ever before, threatening our lives, societies, and economies.

The global response to some disease threats has come under intense scrutiny – notably HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria – with some impressive successes. But the majority of diseases remain classified as “neglected”. If the international community is to respond to these effectively then all the weapons in the existing global armoury will need to be deployed. Sensitive application of biotechnology, genomics and informatics will contribute, as will more effective public-private partnerships in R&D, and efforts to overcome market failure in development of new drugs and vaccines. But a more joined-up approach by leading economies also is necessary.

OECD countries meeting in Lisbon in October 2002 debated how they could better work together and with other international agencies to deliver on these challenges. The key messages are reported in “Biotechnology and Sustainability – The Fight Against Infectious Disease” available online at the OECD Biotechnology homepage (see link below). A determined and sustained international partnership is required to decouple the impact of infectious disease from the engine of economic growth. If anyone is in any doubt, ask Hong Kong.

©OECD Observer No 237, May 2003

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email Observer@OECD.org

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019