World Bank President Jim Yong Kim stands still as a health personnel checks his temperature during his visit in December 2014 to Liberia, one of the countries affected by the Ebola outbreak. Kim laid out his vision of an emergency facility that would help prevent and enable quicker response to future health emergencies. Photo by: Dominic Chavez / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced Tuesday a new plan to curb future health pandemics. While the plan will involve both the private and public sectors, questions still remain about who’s on board, and how it will be funded.

With laser pointer in hand and charts displayed on a nearby screen, Kim gave a lecture to Georgetown University students and faculty about the Ebola epidemic, the global health response to the virus and continued health threats posed to the world’s poorest communities.

Speaking in a university setting about the world’s pressing global health challenges, the anthropologist, physician and former president of Dartmouth College was in his element. Kim lamented the devastating impact of Ebola and the international community’s sluggish efforts to respond. He spoke of his own experiences treating unforgiving diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis — both as a physician and as co-founder of the health care nonprofit Partners in Health.

But the crux of Kim’s lecture was the introduction of a new plan to prevent future pandemics from wreaking havoc again: the pandemic emergency facility.

The idea is to bring together governments, multilateral organizations and the private sector to develop a dependable method — similar to an insurance policy — to prevent and quickly respond to future health emergencies.

Kim underscored the need to “create a pool of resources that will quickly disburse,” as well as the need to involve all stakeholders in the prevention of future pandemics — “which is literally everybody,” he said.

The World Bank president explained that by getting the private sector more engaged in such a plan, surveillance and supply chains would be improved, and response capacity might be better disciplined. In addition, Kim said the World Health Organization must play a “critical role” and should be “built up from where they were prior to the Ebola outbreak.”

The World Bank Group has been working on the idea for several months with WHO, other U.N. agencies, reinsurance company officials and academics, according to the global financial institution. And a proposal — likely to include a mixture of bonds and insurance instruments — is expected to be ready in the coming months.

“I do like Jim’s idea,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neil Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University and director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights, told Devex.

“Countries have historically been unwilling to do more than mobilize crisis per crisis. And in between the headlines they don’t fund in a sustainable way,” Gostin said, adding that a pandemic emergency facility could be instrumental in improving resource mobilization.

But the big question, he noted, is how exactly the plan will be funded.

“Will it be a [Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] model or a [Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance] model?” he asked.

Gostin also underscored the importance of making sure Kim’s proposal fits “under the auspices of the WHO,” cautioning that if it doesn’t, and if a new organization is developed that aims to carry out what WHO seeks to accomplish, “I think it’s going to wound the agency for a generation.”

What do you think about Kim’s idea of a pandemic emergency facility? And what sorts of questions should be considered when developing a proposal? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.