Jim Kim eyes global health security reserve corps

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim tours the Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya while discussing the country’s preparedness to deal with the Ebola outbreak. Kim has pledged additional funding for the Ebola crisis, part of which will be used to set up what could become a permanent health security reserve corps. Photo by: Dominic Chavez / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The World Bank pledged $100 million in additional funding to the Ebola crisis in late October, part of which will be used to establish a coordination hub that could hopefully address bottlenecks in the recruitment of international health professionals — and jumpstart a permanent global health security reserve corps.

The hub will be established in close coordination with David Nabarro, senior U.N. system coordinator for Ebola, and the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response led by Anthony Banbury; with technical support from the World Health Organization and other partners. It aims to tackle issues ranging from pay and benefits to “provision of urgent medical care and/or medical evacuations for any infected staff.”

Lack of guarantee for the latter has been among the biggest reasons why many health workers refuse to volunteer in West Africa, Oxfam humanitarian policy adviser Debbie Hillier told Devex earlier this week. To alleviate health workers’ concerns on this front, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen apportioned a significant share of his $100 million pledge this month to the medical evacuation of international aid and health workers.

“Health workers take an oath to treat the sick — and so it’s no surprise to me that many health workers want to go treat Ebola patients at the source of this epidemic,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who himself is an infectious disease doctor, said in a statement. “So we need to find all ways possible to remove any obstacle that stops health workers from serving — whether it is pay for workers in developing countries or the promise of evacuation services.”

But Kim is also considering the hub’s potential for long-term use, and believes it can eventually serve as a base for a reserve corps of health workers who can be readily deployed in the event of another global health crisis.

“Even as we focus intensely on the Ebola emergency response, we must also invest in public health infrastructure, institutions and systems to prepare for the next epidemic, which could spread much more quickly, kill even more people and potentially devastate the global economy,” he said.

This $100 million pledge likely forms part of the $170 million the bank promised to provide in September, which came on top of an earlier $230 million pledge. As of late October, the bank had disbursed only $117 million from its $400 million in pledged funds for the Ebola response.

Slow disbursement of pledged funds is not unique to the World Bank, however, leading many aid groups to reach out beyond donor agencies and appeal directly to the public.

The U.K. Disasters Emergency Committee, for one, made an unprecedented appeal Oct. 29 for its member agencies working in various capacities in West Africa. The appeal will be supported by the U.K. Department for International Development under its U.K. Aid Match funding scheme. The aid agency will match up to 5 million pounds ($8 million) in public donations.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.