Economic impact of epidemics and pandemics

Briefing 27-02-2020

Despite significant medical progress over the last centuries, infectious diseases such as influenza or malaria still represent a considerable threat to society. While some are endemic to specific geographical regions, others can spread, becoming epidemics or pandemics, as is the case with the coronavirus crisis currently developing. While the first and most crucial aspect of an epidemic is, and will always remain, the loss of human life, the spread of a virus can also have important repercussions for national or regional economies. The evidence reported in various studies indicates that epidemic disease impacts on a country's economy through several channels, including the health, transportation, agricultural and tourism sectors. At the same time, trade with other countries may also be impacted, while the interconnectedness of modern economies means that an epidemic can also implicate international supply chains. These considerations, as well as the fact that rapid urbanisation, increasing international travel and climate change all render epidemic outbreaks a global and not simply a local phenomenon, imply that it is important for all countries to take necessary measures to counter this threat. In this context, several initiatives have been proposed, ranging from a single measure (e.g. investing in new antibiotics), to broader solutions to be adopted by developing and developed countries alike. In the European Union (EU), healthcare organisation and provision are Member State prerogatives and responsibilities. The EU's actions in this area therefore aim at complementing national policies to help Member States face common challenges, such as epidemics. This support takes place via coordination and exchange of best practices between EU countries and health experts, financial support under Instruments for co-financing, (e.g. the Horizon 2020 research programme and European Fund for Strategic Investments), and the adoption of relevant legislation. The European Parliament has taken the opportunity, through own-initiative resolutions, to highlight the need for further actions.