Health Initiative

World Bank Targets Global Epidemics

Life is returning to Liberia. Source: Getty Images
People are smiling again in Liberia.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa has exposed the world’s vulnerability to outbreaks of serious diseases.

  • Facts


    • Jim Kim and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Monday in Washington for talks.
    • The World Bank president wants to strengthen the WHO with an emergency fund for epidemics.
    • Mrs. Merkel plans to address the issue during Germany’s upcoming G7 presidency.
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Life is slowly returning to normal in Monrovia. Schools have reopened and people are shaking each other’s hands again in Liberia’s capital, where, until recently, people infected with Ebola waited to die.

The number of new infections of the deadly virus has sunk dramatically in West Africa. Although the epidemic is far from over, the worst seems to have passed. Liberia and its neighbors, Sierra Leone and Guinea, are recovering, but the return to normality poses a risk of complacency.

“We know the pattern,” Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, told Handelsblatt. “First, everyone is alarmed, then the wave of infections passes and we all forget.”

Mr. Kim is on a mission to draw greater attention to Ebola and other epidemics, and is keen to have Germany play a key role.

On Monday, he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had flown to Washington for talks on the Ukraine crisis with President Barak Obama, to discuss a global system for combating epidemics.

The fact that Ms. Merkel found time in her busy schedule with Mr. Obama to meet with Mr. Kim sent a strong signal of support for the World Bank president’s plans.

With Germany’s help, Mr. Kim intends to strengthen the World Heath Organization, WHO, with an emergency fund and other new financial instruments to combat epidemics.

With Germany taking over the G7 group of leading industrial nations this summer, Ms. Merkel can show Berlin is willing to step up and do more against global crises – without having to become militarily involved.

He has also given Germany an opportunity to show its global commitment to battling deadly diseases, after the country took a back seat in the recent Ebola outbreak to the United States and Britain, which sent mobile field hospitals to struggling regions.

With Germany taking over the G7 group of leading industrial nations this summer, Ms. Merkel can show Berlin is willing to step up and do more against global crises – without having to become militarily involved.

Mr. Kim also needs to bolster his position at the World Bank, and winning over Ms. Merkel for his epidemic program could help.

The World Bank has roughly $1 billion, or €883 million, available for emergency aid. But half of that money is already tied to efforts against Ebola for the next three years, meaning the world can’t afford another global epidemic.

Berlin was showing a “positive tendency” toward offering more money, a government source told Handelsblatt.

Efforts are also underway to get the business community more involved. The World Bank has held talks with insurance giant Munich Re to help develop a market for financial products aimed at fighting epidemics. It would also like to see the creation of a special class of government bonds to raise capital for relief measures.

The World Bank has already accepted a suggestion by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to create a medical emergency corps, made up of doctors, nurses and other helpers as a first response to a global epidemic.

“First and foremost, it’s about the people, but I do have a responsibility of finding ways to buffer the global economy from these shocks we know will happen,” Mr. Kim told Handelsblatt. “It will be the poor, as always, who are hit hardest by these pandemics.”


Moritz Koch is Handelsblatt’s Washington correspondent. To contact him: With reporting by Kerstin Leitel.

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