Today's episode of The Indicator from Planet Money was about three "indicators" from a spending bill passed by the U.S. Congress this week. Towards the end, co-hosts Darian Woods and Adrian Ma touched on the meager funding the world provides for the World Health Organization (WHO), including for pandemic preparedness, and how the world doesn't invest enough in preventing bad things from happening in the future. I thought this discussion was relevant, so I made my own transcription of this part of the episode and included it below.
Darian Woods: For my indicator, I want to widen the lens even further to the global level. I saw this number the other day that really gave me pause: the amount spent each year for the World Health Organization. This funding... is all paid for by contributions from countries all around the world - countries in Africa, Europe, the US, China - and it's also partly funded by non-governmental organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
And look, yeah, there are criticisms of how the WHO reacted slowly early in the pandemic. But it is the institution charged with monitoring new Ebola outbreaks, warning the world about new coronavirus variants, and hopefully slowing down the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases. And so I thought, you know, as an indicator of how much the sum total of everyone in the world - all 8 billion of us - value this pandemic prevention system, the answer seems to be: not a lot. In 2019, contributions to the WHO were less than a third of the annual budget of the New York public hospital system. It was just $3 billion, and that's about 38 cents per person.
Adrian Ma: Yeah. It really makes you think about the economic cost of this pandemic, not to mention the human toll - the millions of lives lost. And yet, it's still a painful moment to have to reach in your pocket and have to spend a few more dollars on helping to prevent the next disaster.
Woods: And maybe this is a human thing. Maybe I should be going to the dentist more, or be wearing more sunscreen to prevent skin cancer later in life. Maybe that's my own equivalent of not preparing for a pandemic. But you know, the future is a foggy, distant place. And if a disaster is averted, a lot of us might not even notice - there's rarely a big headline saying "Pandemic Never Happened."