Global Views

Winds of Change

Johns Hopkins collaborates with Swiss Re to address critical international environmental policy challenges;
Are mosquitos the new ‘canary in the coal mine’?

Recent graduates of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and global reinsurance company Swiss Re are releasing a study that examines the implications of climate change on global pandemic risk.

“Pandemics in a Changing Climate-Evolving Risk and the Global Response” also analyzes the potential of a World Bank-led initiative to provide emergency funding for response efforts to prevent disease outbreaks from becoming more deadly and costly pandemics.

Large-scale outbreaks such as Ebola and the Zika virus have demonstrated the importance of quick, coordinated response and rapid deployment of financial resources.

The Johns Hopkins SAIS graduates say the response mechanisms in the current system are too slow, and in addition, the effects of climate change threaten to further undermine preparedness by increasing the uncertainty of the location and severity of an outbreak.

Pandemic Emergency Facility

The group examined the Pandemic Emergency Facility (PEF), a global financing mechanism launched by the World Bank, designed to protect the world against deadly pandemics.

The initiative will create an insurance market for pandemic risk, and rely on pandemic insurance, bonds, and long-term pledges to contain future outbreaks. The graduates recommend strategies to continue strengthening the effectiveness of the PEF as it evolves to manage the changing nature and distribution of pandemic risk.

“A lot was learned from the 2014 Ebola outbreak and the global community is responding to ensure we have more efficient mechanisms in place to save more lives,” said Alex Kaplan, Senior Vice President of Swiss Re. “With greater urbanization, globalization and climate change we must constantly be telescoping forward to how these risks will evolve over time and the students did just that.”

The report is a part of a practicum project in the Energy, Resources and Environment Program at Johns Hopkins SAIS, which gives students the opportunity to collaborate with partners from private, public, and multilateral institutions to address global challenges.

The team of student researchers is comprised of Rachel Estrada, Andrew Griffith, Colbye Prim and Jeongsu Sinn, who were assisted by Celeste Connors, a former White House official on climate change and Johns Hopkins SAIS faculty advisor. Connors said the release of the study comes as global leaders at the G7 Summit recommit to addressing health emergencies and preparedness following the Ebola crisis.

“Pandemic outbreaks globally are taking a huge economic toll on governments, threatening to reverse hard-won development gains,” Connors said. “Climate change further exacerbates this risk and new and innovative financing solutions are needed, including reinsurance mechanisms that Swiss Re is leading.”

Excerpts from ‘Pandemics in a Changing Climate-Evolving Risk and the Global Response’

Climate change and mosquitoes
Mosquitoes are one of the most climate-sensitive vectors whose habitat will likely expand in regions where climate change will create a more favorable environment for them to live in. Their population will also grow more rapidly during their most active seasons, and will survive for longer periods of time. Mosquitoes transmit diseases such as Zika, Dengue, Malaria, West Nile Fever and Yellow Fever.

Mosquito habitat change in urban areas
Mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water bodies, where they spend their larval and pupal stages before leaving the breeding site. In large cities where population densities are much higher compared to rural areas, water bodies such as lakes or irrigation systems for urban farming in urban peripheries serve as major breeding sites for mosquitoes. In urban centers, where population density is highest, drainage systems or stagnant water bodies near rivers are mosquito incubators that can affect a large number of people. An increase in precipitation levels can potentially increase the quality and quantity of mosquito breeding sites.17 In a city with over 2 million residents and an area of 173 km, an increase in the frequency of rainfall will create additional breeding sites (small puddles in residential areas, old tires, containers, etc) for mosquitoes, and a 1 km encroachment from both urban peripheries and urban centers will double the total number of susceptible population.

Large-scale outbreaks such as Ebola and the Zika virus have demonstrated the importance of quick, coordinated response and rapid deployment of financial resources

The economic toll of epidemics
Severe outbreaks take a devastating economic toll on governments and citizens of affected countries, overwhelming limited public finances and reversing hard-won development gains. The immediate economic disruption resulting from emergency expenditures, loss of lives and suspended productivity can translate into lasting impediments to growth. As such, when it comes to response, timing is key; lost time corresponds to lost lives and dollars, as costs of treatment, contact tracing and burials mount.

The G7 response: Pricing pandemic risk

The desire to prevent another Ebola-like crisis, particularly in other low-income countries with limited response capacity, has commanded attention from the highest level of political leadership.

At the 2015 G7 Leaders’ Summit in Germany, heads of state committed “to preventing future outbreaks from becoming epidemics by assisting countries to implement the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations (IHR),” a binding legal instrument designed to “help the international community prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide,” and “define the rights and obligations of countries to report public health events.”

Alongside parallel pledges to improve prevention, preparedness and recovery capabilities, this commitment proclaimed G7 countries’ support for the implementation of the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF), a financial response mechanism currently being developed by the World Bank in cooperation with the WHO, global reinsurance companies including Swiss Re, and catastrophe modelers to facilitate the quick dispersal of funds in the event of large-scale disease outbreaks. The G7 also encouraged the expansion of this agenda to the G20 level.

The Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility
The PEF, which is expected to enter into operation by late 2016, is the result of international efforts to price pandemic risk. It will consist of two financing pillars:

  • a parametric insurance mechanism (the focus of this report),
  • and a cash reserve composed of long-term pledges from development partners that will allow for additional flexibility.

The insurance mechanism is designed to facilitate quick, efficent outbreak response by providing funds to hire and deploy pre-approved international responders (response organizations, emergency task forces or national governments depending on existing response capacity) in affected countries to cover immediate objectives in the event of a major outbreak.

Payouts will be triggered when an outbreak meets a set of predetermined thresholds (e.g. number of deaths or infections within a given timeframe), which have been set in advance based on the characteristics of each of the covered diseases. Critically, this mechanism will allow funds to reach affected countries in as little as ten days by offering a faster alternative to slow, subjective political decision making processes related to dispersing funds (i.e. when, how and at what levels) and avoiding lengthy contractual delays and other bureaucratic hurdles. In this way, the PEF is intended to prevent a potentially serious outbreak from becoming a larger international crisis.

The Ebola crisis, in particular, demonstrated the need to respond much more quickly to future outbreaks. Six months after the initial cases were reported, only around one-third of financial pledges had been dispersed (much of it at the later end of this period), and this financing lag is often cited as one of the main reasons for the region’s failure to achieve early containment of the virus. As the crisis ballooned, resource requirements also grew exponentially.


The full report is available for download: “Pandemics in a Changing Climate-Evolving Risk and the Global Response”