Why It Matters: The Pandemic Threat

Global Health Threats
  • Infectious disease outbreaks
    (like coronavirus, influenza, or Ebola viruses)
  • Chronic illnesses
    (like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes)
  • Environmental disasters
    (like hurricanes, mudslides, or earthquakes)
  • Humanitarian emergencies
    (like war or famine)
  • Biological or chemical terrorism

While we can’t predict exactly when or where the next epidemic or pandemic will begin, we know one is coming. Global health security is how we stop outbreaks from becoming widespread pandemics that threaten us all.

36 Hours: U.S. National Security at Risk

Outbreaks take hold in the world’s most vulnerable areas – countries with few resources to stem the tide of infection before it reaches our shores. When a pathogen can travel from a remote village to major cities on all continents in 36 hours, the threat to our national security is greater than ever.

Why are we at risk from local outbreaks turning into global pandemics?

Many challenges exist worldwide that increase the risk that outbreaks will occur and spread rapidly, including:

  • Increased risk of infectious pathogens “spilling over” from animals to humans
  • Development of antimicrobial resistance
  • Spread of infectious diseases through global travel and trade
  • Acts of bioterrorism
  • Weak public health infrastructures
3 Ways Global Outbreaks Impact the U.S. Economy

A global infectious disease outbreak can have a catastrophic impact on the U.S. economy — even if the disease never reaches the U.S.

JOBS: In 2018, the U.S. exported over $110 billion in material goods and services to 45 health security priority countries. As of 2015, U.S. exports to these countries supported over 400,000 jobs across America in sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and natural resource extraction.

TRAVEL AND TRADE: As has been seen with the COVID-19 outbreak that began in 2019, the fallout from wide-spread outbreaks and pandemics can have harsh consequences for travel, tourism, and imports. The 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak contributed to over $1 billion loss in U.S. merchandise exports to afflicted countries in West Africa.

COST: 2015 estimates show that potential pandemics may cost over $500 billion per year. Investing in global health security and improving our ability to prevent, detect, and respond to diseases could not only protect the health of Americans at home and abroad, it could avert these catastrophic costs.

How do we stop potential pandemics from spreading?

Our global health security work focuses on building public health systems that work hand-in-hand to help countries detect and contain public health threats.

  • Surveillance systems to rapidly detect and report cases
  • Laboratory networks to accurately identify the cause of illness
  • A trained workforce to identify, track, and contain outbreaks
  • Emergency management systems to coordinate an effective response
Did You Know?

Stronger public health systems mean faster, smarter response to contain potential pandemics and threats of international importance in our partner countries. Learn more about our work:

Note: This story was originally published in the Winter 2017 (Issue 26) Updates from the Field. It has been updated in 2020 and 2021.