A bird flu pandemic could wipe $4.4 trillion off the global economy and kill 142 million people, according to a worst-case scenario report by Australian academics.
The study by the independent policy organisation—the Lowy Institute—found that even a mild pandemic could have significant consequences for global output, costing the world 1.4 million lives and approximately US$330 billion.
This is close to 0.8 percent of global gross domestic product.
The institute looked at four scenarios—mild, moderate, severe and ultra pandemics. They analysed historical data on previous flu pandemics. And took into account the economic fallout from the Asian SARS crisis back in 2003.
A severe pandemic could be on the scale of the 1918-19 Spanish flu, the report says. This pandemic killed between 20 and 50 million worldwide.
India, China and Indonesia would suffer the biggest death tolls under both “ultra” and “mild” pandemics. Less developed countries would also collectively have the largest number of deaths ranging from 330,000 to 33 million dead.
Such outbreaks would also see economic slowdown and a significant shift of global capital from the developing world to the less affected “safe haven” economies of North America and Europe, says the report.
The report is released at a time when bird flu has spread further within the Europe Union and Africa from Asia.
To date the highly contagious H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 91 people worldwide since late 2003, with deaths concentrated in southeast Asia and China.
Yet the report does highlight that there are “enormous uncertainties” as to whether the H51N virus will mutate into a more contagious pathogen that could spread via human-to-human contact.
The report recommends “large investment of resources” to ensure a flu pandemic does not occur.