Plan for 'global army' of medics

Ebola workers Image copyright SPL

Plans for a global taskforce of 10,000 medics and scientists to tackle major disease outbreaks will be presented at the G7 summit, the BBC understands.

It is a direct response to the biggest ever Ebola outbreak which has infected more than 27,000 people in West Africa.

There are also plans to improve disease surveillance and invest more money in drug development.

Experts said such measures would have prevented the Ebola outbreak reaching an unprecedented scale.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds the presidency of the G7 group of leading nations. Leaders will meet at a summit in Germany on Sunday.

In a newspaper column this week, she said: "We will be discussing how we can be better prepared for such epidemics, how we can prevent them, or at least respond better and faster if they do break out.

"The establishment of a worldwide taskforce with a sensible overall concept and adequate funding is undoubtedly a goal for the medium term, but we should be looking at it even now."

She has taken advice from Bill Gates, pharmaceutical companies and global health experts.

Documents seen by BBC News include proposals for a global taskforce of 10,000 medics and scientists termed "White Coats" .

It would work like an army reserve with people doing their normal jobs, but being ready to be deployed at short notice.

It also calls for an autonomous group within the World Health Organization to take responsibility for all outbreaks.

Ebola deaths

Figures up to 13 January 2016


Deaths - probable, confirmed and suspected

(Includes one in the US and six in Mali)

  • 4,809 Liberia

  • 3,955 Sierra Leone

  • 2,536 Guinea

  • 8 Nigeria


There are also proposals to dramatically increase disease surveillance in poor and middle-income countries to prevent outbreaks going unnoticed.

Three disease testing centres would be set up in each target country, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, with an annual cost of up to £9.7m ($15m).

There are further plans to invest up to £65m ($100m) each year to research drugs, tests and vaccines for other threats.

This is expected to focus on up to 10 diseases including, Mers-coronavirus, Lassa fever and new strains of flu.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust and one of Ms Merkel's advisors, told the BBC: "We shouldn't underestimate the costs of these events.

"Ebola will be somewhere between five and ten billion dollars, Sars ten years ago will have cost similar amounts.

"These are significant costs, the amount of money we would have to spend in order to do the research, to have the surveillance systems in place, and the capacity to respond, would be a fraction of that."

'Massive impact'

Jonathan Ball, prof of virology at the University of Nottingham, commented: "Where the current Ebola epidemic is concerned the global response was inexcusably tardy and the delayed response undoubtedly fuelled the explosive increases in cases towards the end of last year.

"Disease surveillance and diagnosis are crucial in identifying outbreaks as soon as they start, and can have a massive impact on controlling infection outbreaks.

"These would have prevented the unprecedented spread of Ebola witnessed in West Africa.

"It is difficult to predict where the next virus outbreak will come from, nor what it will be, but preparedness will enable the global community to respond in a timely way and hopefully stamp anything out before it takes a hold - so these are sensible measures."

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