Studies: Next major outbreak could bring high US job loss

The next large-scale infectious disease outbreak would not just be a public health crisis but also an economic crisis for the United States, in the shape of jobs lost and a draining of the export economy—even if it were to happen halfway around the world—according to two studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in Health Security.

The papers follow the unveiling of President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2019 budget, which includes $59 million to support the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). The acting director of the CDC, Anne Schuchat, MD, said these funds were vital to the country's economic security.

"The President's Budget request of $59 million for Fiscal Year 2019 for GHSA demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to global health security and provides an important bridge to the extension of the GHSA announced in October 2017 in Uganda," said Schuchat, in a press release. "This new funding continues the U.S. commitment to this multi-national effort and supplements U.S. Government multisector support for this initiative."

The GHSA, however, currently receives $180 million a year, so Trump's budget, if enacted, would result in a major cut. Time will tell which of Trump's budget recommendations will pass Congress.

Threats to the export economy

The first article, "Relevance of Global Health Security to the US Export Economy" presumes a major infectious disease outbreak takes place in 1 of the CDC's 49 global health security priority countries, which include trade partners such as India and South Africa.

Though the 2014-2016 West African Ebola outbreak illustrated how quickly pathogens can cross borders, even an outbreak that stays contained in a country or region could wreak havoc on the US trade economy, the authors said.

According to their research, US exports to the 49 countries was $308 billion in 2015 and supported more than 1.6 million American jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, services, and other sectors. That's 13.7% of all US export revenue worldwide, and 14.3% of all US jobs supported by all US exports.

The researchers found that all 50 states have jobs related to the export economy that would be lost in the face of an epidemic, but certain states are more heavily invovled in the exporting economy: California, Texas, and Washington were the largest exporters of manufactured goods to the priority countries, with each exporting more than $21.5 billion.

Continued investment in global capacities could help stave off these losses, the authors said in the article, which was published in December.

Potential Southeast Asia outbreak

In the second paper, published yesterday, the authors tackle a hypothetical emerging infectious disease outbreak in Southeast Asia. That region is ripe for such outbreaks because of a confluence of risk factors, including mounting drug-resistant and vector-borne diseases. Exports to Southeast Asia also support the most US jobs.

The authors used an upper (16.3%) and a lower estimate (3.3%) of outbreak-related percentage reductions in gross domestic product (based on totals from West Africa during the recent Ebola outbreak) in nine Southeast Asian countries to calculate total losses to the US economy over 1 year.

They calculated that such a scenario could cost the United States more than $40 billion in lost export revenues and put more than 1 million US jobs at risk. The numbers, the authors said, give ample reason to invest in international disease surveillance systems and work on international disease detection.

"Our findings illustrate how global health security, which relies on the capacity of all countries to rapidly detect and control public health threats, is critical to the US economy," the authors concluded.

See also:

Feb 13 CDC press release

Dec 4, 2017, Health Security article, "Relevance of Global Health Security to the US Export Economy"

Feb 13 Health Security paper, "Impact of a Hypothetical Infectious Disease Outbreak on US Exports and Export-Based Jobs"

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