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Businesses can help stop coronavirus and future infectious disease outbreaks

Businesses can help stop coronavirus and future infectious disease outbreaks
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COVID-19 has infected more than, 82,000 people and killed nearly 3000. It’s also causing the global economy to lose a predicted $280 billion in the first quarter of 2020. Thus, one lesson from the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is that infectious disease affects everyone — no sector is spared. 

Everywhere you look, businesses are bleeding losses due to COVID-19. Businesses in China and other countries that depend on supplies from China are especially feeling the impact. 

Asian markets are recording losses; several airlines have canceled flights to Mainland China; Apple’s global supply chain has slowed down and sales negatively affected; Saudi Arabia has suspended travels by pilgrims to the country leading to losses by travel agents and airlines; Maersk, the global leader in shipping has canceled 50 trips to Asia; Goldman-Sachs says U.S. companies will not generate earnings growth in 2020. The list is endless.  

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CEOs and boards must realize that funding epidemic preparedness makes business sense and have huge returns on investments — and it’s just the right thing to do. 

Indeed, it is time for businesses to contribute their fair share to combating the current pandemic and to ensure that the world is better prepared to prevent and respond to future outbreaks. Here are some of the ways how.

Most urgently, private businesses should contribute to the World Health Organisation’s contingency fund for emergencies. WHO needs $61.5 million for urgent preparedness and response activities for February to April 2020, alone. However, WHO has only received a miserly $1.45 million in cash and 29.95 million in pledges.  

Czech Republic, Ireland, Slovakia and Resolve to Save Lives have contributed $262,000, $515,000, $220,000 and $500,000 respectively in cash. The following have pledged support: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Canada, European Union, France, Japan, Norway, United Kingdom. No business has contributed or made a pledge. Even trillion-dollar businesses such as Alphabet, Apple, Amazon and PetroChina. This must change.

There are lessons from Nigeria in the way private businesses supported the response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014. For instance, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote and United Bank for Africa donated $3 million and $1 million respectively to the African Union. These donations supported the African Union’s support to contain then West Africa Ebola outbreak.

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Second, businesses can support national public health institutes so they can adequately prepare for epidemics. Laboratories are not cheap and diagnostic capacity is very crucial to preventing epidemics. This support can be achieved by funding national public health institutes to set up more reference laboratories for a quick turnaround in diagnoses. 

For instance, through the work of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that’s been supported by partners, Nigeria now has four reference laboratories. 

However, these are not enough to prepare for epidemics in a country of about 200 million people. Consequently, NCDC and other national public health institutes need the support of private businesses to improve networks of reference laboratories.  

Third, private businesses should fund primary health care in some of the remotest parts of the world where they operate. Funding community health workers to deliver health promotion and prevention activities would lead to improved knowledge of how communities can prevent infectious disease outbreaks. 

Community health workers can share knowledge on the benefits of handwashing and general cleanliness in preventing epidemics. When it comes to infectious diseases, the world is as strong as the weakest link. Therefore, poor and underserved communities should be prioritized in private businesses’ support.   

Fourth, private businesses can contribute to epidemic preparedness by strengthening both vaccine storage and the seamless delivery of vaccines because one way to prevent epidemics is via a strong routine vaccination system.  

Vaccination is weak when vaccines are not stored at the right temperature. Vaccine delivery is impaired due to poor road networks in countries with low routine vaccination coverage. This is where businesses can play a role. 

Multinational businesses such as Coca Cola and construction companies that are located in some of the remotest, hard-to-reach parts of the world can support vaccine storage by donating solar-powered freezers and cold boxes. 

They can also support by equipping primary health centers with solar energy

Finally, private businesses can support the training of health workers by paying for continuous professional development. Health workers are very important in preventing and responding to infectious disease outbreaks and they need training and equipment to conduct surveillance and mount an adequate response to outbreaks.  

Also, international businesses can arrange for health workers from countries with weak health systems to travel to their home countries for training. For example, British multinational companies can provide funds to Public Health England to train epidemiologists from Africa and Asia. 

Now is not a time to show fear or panic. Instead, private businesses must step up to help curb our current pandemic. This is also the time to prepare for the next infectious disease outbreak because rest assured, COVID-19 is not the last infectious disease outbreak that will occur. The world must be vigilant and not be caught unawares again. 

Dr. Ifeanyi M. Nsofor M.B.B.S is the CEO of EpiAFRIC and director of policy and advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch. He is a current 2019 Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University and a 2018 New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute. He has written opinion pieces for Devex, African Arguments, AllAfrica and Vanguard Nigeria. Follow him on Twitter: @ekemma.