Managing the Risk and Impact of Future Epidemics

Options for Public-Private Cooperation

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa presented an enormous challenge for the international community. More than 26,000 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola were recorded as of May 2015, as well as more than 11,000 Ebola-related deaths. Although an unprecedented challenge for all stakeholders, the crisis also led to many innovative solutions and partnerships among governments, nonprofit groups, and private-sector organizations. The outbreak highlighted the need for new ways—such as forming new partnerships with different stakeholders—that more effectively and quickly address global public-health emergencies.

One of these critical new partnerships is between the public and private sectors. Despite the successes of the private-sector engagement in the Ebola response, public agencies that were responding on the ground struggled to collaborate effectively with companies in the private sector. To better understand what worked well and how to prepare for future emergencies, the World Economic Forum joined forces with The Boston Consulting Group to analyze the private sector’s emergency preparation, response, and recovery activities associated with the outbreak.

The Ebola response showed that the private sector can act not only as a source of financial donations but also as a partner for international agencies and other nonprofits in executing important response needs. Companies had valuable connections, expertise, and capabilities that were critical during the emergency. Those with operations in West Africa also had equipment and personnel at the ready, as well as a deep knowledge of the local communities and cultures—all of which could have been used to cut response times and increase the effectiveness of relief efforts. Although some of these private-sector resources were used in critical ways to support the Ebola response, they were not fully utilized, as the interactions between the public and private sectors were often largely uncoordinated. For large portions of the international private sector and responding public agencies, there was confusion and frustration about how to engage and contribute. To increase the effectiveness of private-sector donations and capabilities, greater partnership and trust are needed between these two sectors.

The report Managing the Risk and Impact of Future Epidemics: Options for Public-Private Cooperation presents a set of recommendations that will help public-private partnerships address public health issues and epidemics worldwide. These recommendations include collaboration models, such as local private-sector networks and technical clusters, as well as suggestions for international platforms that foster information sharing. Although additional efforts will be needed to build these partnerships and drive their efforts forward, their creation is critical to better prepare for future emergencies.