Preparing Your Business for the Next Health Crisis

Our partner, Marsh Global, has created and released a thoughtful new report for companies considering the impact from significant infectious disease events. Metabiota provided insights into the content and our Pathogen Sentiment Index is a key tool that is informing PathogenRX. The report is entitled, "Pandemic Readiness: Risk Finance and Mitigation Strategies" and it examines a host of topics, including the cost of infectious disease on businesses, response planning and insuring against the risk of epidemics and pandemics. Below is an excerpt from the report ... "A century ago, the Spanish flu spread across the world, killing as many as 100 million people and causing devastating economic losses. Since then, tens of millions of lives have been claimed by pandemics and epidemics that also wreaked havoc on businesses and damaged national economies. Despite advances in medicine and improved infection control practices, the swine flu and Zika pandemics and outbreaks of the Ebola virus and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in the last decade are a stark reminder of the dangers posed by rapidly spreading disease. Although public health officials must lead much of the preventive work needed to limit the effects of infectious diseases, organizations can manage their own risk by planning their response to protect their people and fiscal integrity. To effectively respond to these threats, businesses should take a two-pronged approach, starting with establishing preparedness strategies that cover emergency response, business continuity, crisis management, and crisis communications. Aside from the ability to monitor the progress of emerging pandemics and epidemics and understanding their potential impact, plans should also be in place to continue operations in case of travel restrictions and if organizations are directly affected. Secondly, businesses should understand how existing insurance coverages may respond to a pandemic, and make any necessary changes to their policies, keeping in mind the potentially global nature of various diseases." To access the full report, click here. 

Could pandemic risk impact your business?

Pandemics are the stuff of nightmares. But alongside the risk to life, there are significant risks to businesses too. In the worst-case scenario, the worldwide spread of a serious infectious disease could result in annual economic losses of more than $500 billion as well as pandemic-related deaths of 700,000, according to a study cited by the World Health Organization. But even a relatively small outbreak could have huge consequences for businesses in certain sectors, namely hospitality, gambling and transportation. As a result, organizations are increasingly seeking solutions for financial protection and risk transfer in the case that a pandemic impacts trading. “We are seeing a lot of interest in that from certain classes of business,” Duncan Ellis, Marsh’s US property practice leader told Corporate Risk and Insurance. “There have been some fairly high-profile articles written of late around the hidden dangers of pandemics, which have happened mostly in Asia around SARS or MERS and other types of diseases. But these incidences of pandemics can also play havoc with a client’s balance sheet, especially around bookings,” Ellis said. Should there be an outbreak of a disease, businesses in the surrounding area will likely be directly impacted. Most at risk are those in sectors where customers could simply choose to avoid the area or activity all together. “For the gaming or hospitality sector, one of your exposures is a potential pandemic which could all of a sudden cause the number of people coming to visit you to be reduced by an enormous level,” Ellis said. The prevalence of international travel today only adds fuel to the fire – and means transportation businesses face risks too. “The way the world works these days… a gambler could be in Macau today and technically speaking could be in Las Vegas tomorrow, for example,” Ellis said. “If they suddenly came down with something and flew on a certain airline, you could imagine how the bookings would go.” Parametric policies are becoming an increasingly attractive solution for those looking to insure the risks to their business around pandemics. Parametric cover works by using a pre-determined parameter - i.e. a metric or an index – which could see the presence of a pathogen trigger the policy for those insuring pandemic risk. This year, Marsh launched PathogenRX, a product that provides financial protection to the global operations of US-based businesses affected by an infectious disease outbreak. The policy utilizes a parametric trigger provided by epidemic risk modeling specialists Metabiota and capacity from reinsurance giant Munich Re. Martin South, president of Marsh’s US and Canada Division, described pandemics and epidemics as “not your average risk.” He added: “They may occur over several months, are often not confined to a specific region, and their unpredictability means they can scale, grow, and become quite costly to a range of businesses - from hotels and restaurants to schools and airlines.” For a link to the original article, please click here.

Business Insurance Magazine Names 2018 Innovation Award Winners - Metabiota, Marsh and Munich Re

Business Insurance on Monday announced the winners of its 2018 Innovation Awards. The awards recognize innovative products and services designed for professional risk managers. The winners were selected by an independent panel of risk managers. The award-winning organizations are: American International Group Inc.   Care Bridge International Inc.   FM Global   Gallagher Bassett Services Inc.   Hiscox Special Risks, a unit of Hiscox Ltd.   Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.   Marsh L.L.C., which had two winning entries   Marsh L.L.C./Metabiota Inc./Munich Reinsurance Co., which submitted a joint project (PathogenRX).   The Institutes   The award-winning entries will be profiled in the November issue of Business Insurance, and the winners will be recognized at the U.S. Insurance Awards to be held in New York in March 2019. For a link to the original post, click here.

Big Data and Disaster Risk Financing for Epidemics: From the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum

I attended the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum in Mexico City, with over 1,000 attendees from over 600 organizations representing over 120 countries—an interesting mix of people from funding agencies such as the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and Germany’s BMZ; country representatives from ministries of finance and catastrophe funds; (re)-insurers; technical and modeling companies; and humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross-Red Crescent. The conference showcased exciting developments in disaster risk financing (DRF), including the increasing use of big data, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, drones, and phones before, during, and after disasters.  A few noteworthy takeaways—satellite imaging is increasingly being used to characterize building stocks in countries, and drones are being sent into hazardous flood zones to measure flood depths and assist real-time response and mitigation efforts. While these operations are saving lives and economies, DRF for preparedness and response to epidemics and pandemics lags behind that of other disasters. The economic impacts of epidemics and pandemics can be devastating. In fact, I spoke with a couple of locals from Mexico City, who shared the economic losses they witnessed first-hand during the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic, when many businesses were shut down in an effort to reduce spread of the disease. I even had a casual conversation with my cab driver, and he echoed similar themes. In fact, the Mexican tourism industry alone lost nearly USD$3 billion during this event, according to some estimates. Currently, there is still a very reactive approach to dealing with epidemics. Instead, the global community must become more proactive. Before an epidemic, appropriate data sources (big or small) should be identified. Countries should aim to better understand their preparedness. Simulation models can be built and run to support risk analytics, and risk transfer mechanisms can be put into place. Cue the panel discussion I participated in, “Big Data and Disaster Risk Financing,” where I focused on data science applications to epidemic and pandemic risk. Big data is helping to overcome challenges in epidemic preparedness and response. A few examples: Natural Language Processing: Narrative reports from official sources are parsed and structured more quickly. News media and social media are analyzed to obtain more timely and localized data. Machine Learning: Boosted regression trees are used on remotely-sensed and locally-acquired data to predict disease “hot spots”. Genetic, medical, or weather data may reveal precursors and early indicators of epidemics. High Performance Computing: Large-scale models can run millions of simulations of epidemic spread to get a better idea of the range of possible outcomes from epidemics. Therefore, it is not a shortage of big data tools and analytics, but rather tying these into development of DRF mechanisms for epidemics that seems to be a roadblock. DRF would be very beneficial for epidemics and pandemics. It can incentivize preparedness and mitigation, improve rigor in data collection infrastructure, and allow for creation of contingency plans and understanding of absorptive capacity. A couple of DRF mechanisms for epidemics do exist or are currently in development. The World Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) came into effect in 2017 and has paid out $12 million to fund response activities for an Ebola outbreak earlier in 2018 in DRC. Metabiota is excited to be an implementation partner in a new pilot program by the African Risk Capacity (a specialized agency of the African Union) to develop tools and DRF for outbreak and epidemic risk management. As the world continues to harness big data, develop new technologies and tools, and to design novel DRF mechanisms, it is crucial that researchers and policy makers turn an eye towards applying these innovations to mitigating and managing epidemic and pandemic risk. Earlier intervention can save lives and avert costs, significantly altering the course of an epidemic in real time. For more on the impact of big data on epidemic management and preparedness, check out this previous post.

Metabiota Gains Government Momentum with Black & Veatch Sub-Contracts for Defense Threat Reduction Programs

Today, Metabiota, the pioneer in epidemic risk modeling, announced it has been awarded a subcontract from Black & Veatch (B&V) to support the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP) in Iraq under the Biological Threat Reduction Integrating Contract (BTRIC). Metabiota has also partnered with B&V on DTRA’s recently awarded Cooperative Threat Reduction Integrating Contract (CTRIC) III with an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (ID/IQ) contract ceiling of $970M. As B&V’s BTRIC science partner, Metabiota will work with local and foreign stakeholders to improve public heath capacity in Iraq by helping to detect, diagnose, and report emerging and re-emerging diseases of international concern. This work builds on Metabiota’s previous CBEP engagements in the Middle East and will further drive Metabiota's understanding of disease risk and scientific capacity in the region. The BTRIC-Iraq award could generate up to $900,000 for Metabiota over the next 18 months. Metabiota’s commitment to building public health capacity in coordination with host country governments was further realized through the award of BTRIC Cameroon ($450,000), where the Metabiota team has worked for over 14 years. As part of this 18-month contract, Metabiota will provide biosafety expertise to inform renovations to Cameroon’s National Veterinary Laboratory (LANAVET) and will also provide trainings to bolster biosafety and biosecurity capabilities. For CTRIC III, Metabiota will support B&V on awarded Task Orders by leading human and veterinary science initiatives that encompass training, research, and biological surveillance in cooperation with partner nations. A One Health approach will be applied to enhance the ability to detect and deter biological threats in a safe and secure manner, ensuing compliance to international standards. Under the CTRIC III Task Order 02, Metabiota will support efforts to strengthen laboratory capacity at the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) in Thiès, Senegal. Metabiota will further help develop and institutionalize BS&S Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in the laboratory environment. Senegalese Task Order has potential to drive $600,000 in revenue for Metabiota, with a 12-month option. “Metabiota has deep ties to the global health community and has been working hand-in-hand with US Government stakeholders and partner nations for almost a decade,” said Mary Guttieri, executive vice president of Science and Microbiology at Metabiota. “As a result, our team knows what it takes to help countries assess risk and facilitate earlier detection of outbreaks. Working with Black & Veatch on these task orders will help us continue to leverage our analytics and deep scientific knowledge to improve the world’s resilience to epidemics.” To read more of this release, please visit this link.

Preparing for a Pandemic

SARS, H5N1, Zika, H1N1 and Ebola. This quintet has grabbed the headlines in recent years as fears mount over the possibility of a major outbreak of illness or disease spreading around the world. While these five have caused deaths in various places on the globe, concerns that they may spread and wreak death and sickness on a major scale have, as yet, been unfounded. Instead, any outbreaks have, in the main, been restricted to relatively small localised areas with a few isolated incidents in other places. Both H5N1 and the 2014 Ebola outbreak are notable examples. However, history is filled with outbreaks that spread around the world and took a heavy toll. This year marks 100 years since once of the most deadly ever outbreaks first reared its head: the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. Also known as the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 – a name that is in fact something of a misnomer – the pandemic infected as many as 500 million people around the world at a time when the global population was approximately 1.8 billion. Figures from AIR Worldwide suggest the pandemic caused between 20 million and 100 million deaths, or 1.1% to 5.5% of the global population. According to AIR, there were several factors that made the 1918 flu pandemic more deadly than any other seen since. The virus behind the 1918 outbreak was highly transmissible. At the same time, the 1918 flu virus also had a higher case fatality ratio (CFR) compared with other outbreaks seen over the course of the last century. “It is estimated that the CFR for the 1918 pandemic was between 2% and 5%, which is at least 10 times higher than the CFR for a typical flu season,” AIR explained in its report on the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak. Furthermore, World War One also played a part in transmitting the deadly flu pandemic. Soldiers fighting in Europe lived in close proximity to each other, and in some cases the enemy as well, meaning the virus was easily transmitted. The situation was exacerbated by the significant troop movements by land and sea. “Many countries censored news reports about the pandemic to keep up morale as the war drew to a close,” AIR highlights, adding: “Unfortunately, this censorship prevented people from knowing the severity and extent of the pandemic so that they could take precautions.” Spain remained neutral during the conflict, and as such faced no restrictions on reporting the pandemic. The pandemic became known as Spanish Flu because it was one of the few countries whose media at the time was able to publish news stories about the sickness and death. With today’s medical advancements and 24 hour media coverage, would a similar pandemic even be possible? And what does this mean for the re/insurance industry? Unfortunately, there remains the significant possibility that a highly virulent illness could break out, and the re/insurance industry would indeed be impacted. AIR estimates that if the 1918 flu pandemic were to occur in today’s world, between 21 million and 33 million people would die as a result. At the same time, US life insurers alone would payout some $20bn in benefits. It is not only life insurers who would be impacted however. “Based on our model analysis, AIR estimates losses of between $15.3bn and $27.8bn for insurance companies in the United States alone,” AIR said. Fast-forward to 2018, and the threat posed by a similar pandemic remains strong, even with the major advances made in medicine over the last century. Although the 1918 pandemic happened 100 years ago, the world today remains highly vulnerable to a pandemic of a similar magnitude or even worse. When the 1918 Flu Outbreak occurred, transportation was drastically different. The global economic centre of the world was London, and it could easily take more than 40 days to travel from there to parts of Africa, Australia and Latin America. Compare that with today, and commercial airlines have revolutionised global travel, and means that cities around the world are more interconnected that ever before, allowing pathogens to spread far more easily. While 100 years ago it took 60 days to circumnavigate the world, today it can take less than a day. According to specialist pandemic risk modeller Metabiota, a pandemic with similar characteristics to that of the 1918 outbreak would reach more than half of the countries around the world within five months of its initial infection. “Today's travel dynamics can allow a pandemic to spread to many countries before a pandemic is even recognised increasing potential health and economic harm,” Metabiota said in a recent report studying the impact of the 1918 outbreak occurring today. According to Metabiota’s report, and even taking into account modern day medical advancements and disaster preparedness, an event similar to the 1918 pandemic would still lead to millions of deaths around the world. “We now have more of a just-in-time economy and we have supply chains that are very vulnerable to this kind of disruption even from small epidemics, and certainly from global pandemics,” Nita Madhav, vice president of data science at Metabiota, told Reactions. “That increased globalisation and interconnectivity – it’s not just how quickly you can get from one place to another, but how many places that you can get to.” Despite the fairly bleak outlook, Madhav said there have been significant advancements which would help stem the impact of a pandemic in today’s world. “Today, we do have more tools at our fingertips to combat pandemic. In 1918, the flu virus was not known and hadn’t yet been discovered - people were trying to deal with an unknown agent that was causing this large pandemic, and so our scientific understanding has increased substantially. There were no vaccines and there were no antibiotics at that time, so people were mainly looking at providing supportive care and doing activities such as social distancing, closing schools or banning mass gatherings which is what happened in some cities.” A modern day response As well as modelling the potential impact of pandemics, Metabiota is also working with organisations to bring some financial relief to sovereigns that suffer an outbreak. “We’re working with the African Risk Capacity on an outbreaks and epidemics pilot,” explained Madhav. “ includes some capacity building as well as the prospect of having sovereign level insurance against these types of disasters. It’s very exciting work.” The hope is eventually, the pilot will turn into a larger programme where sovereigns will receive some form of payout to help manage the response to a pandemic once a specific series of parametric triggers are hit. While less developed economies would benefit from such disaster financing, corporates also find themselves heavily exposed to financial losses should a pandemic arise, although if their operations are forced to shut down, then there is the potential for them to claim through their business interruption (BI) policies. As Jen Bruursema, vice president of marketing and sales at Metabiota, explained, the life insurance industry has obvious exposures to worry about in the event of a pandemic, but the property and casualty industry can also be hit through the aforementioned BI protection. Metabiota is now working with Marsh to develop a platform that will help corporates get a better understanding of the threat posed to their businesses from pandemic. “Those that are going to be most affected are hospitality and tourism, sports and entertainment – very similar types of events that suffer from terrorism, or active shooter. It’s those events where there’re lots of people involved and lots of people who are very sensitive to public travel and large meeting places. We’ve been going out to a lot of Fortune 500 companies who work in particularly vulnerable sectors to try and understand what is their risk exposure, what Metobiota is going to do with our analytics and data and if a risk transfer option is right for them or whether they should focus on business continuity planning. “We’re hoping that we can build an insurance market for those types of companies that already have some exposure. That can be resorts out in Asia that have felt the effect of SARS to those that are operating large theme parks in Florida and felt the impact from Zika. “What we’re doing at the moment to try and commercialise that business interruption product.” Capital markets’ involvement While Metabiota is working with Marsh to develop this new pandemic BI market, last year saw Swiss Re’s dedicated insurance linked securities arm team up with the World Bank to create the world’s first ever catastrophe bonds to combat such outbreaks. The World Bank sponsored catastrophe bonds support the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). This facility provides first-response surge funding to developing countries facing the risk of a pandemic outbreak. Unveiled in June 2017, it was the first time that the World Bank sponsored bonds that are being used to combat infectious diseases. It is also the first time that pandemic risk is being transferred to the capital markets specifically to cover low-income countries. As Swiss Re Capital Markets explained at the time, “like an earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster, the outbreak of a pandemic is a catastrophe requiring a quick, effective response”. “Swift access to funds to respond effectively to outbreaks and health emergencies is among the most pressing challenges facing the international community,” the company added. The PEF was first launched in response to the Ebola crisis which hit West Africa in 2014. After being detected, it took several months for the affected countries and international community to have the resources in place to mount an effective response, by which time the illness had started to spread its reach around the world. “This mechanism is designed to allow funds to reach affected countries more rapidly, with the goal of making sufficient resources available early enough to prevent an outbreak fromdeveloping into a fully-fledged pandemic,” Swiss Re explained. The World Bank Group’s president Jim Yong Kim said the new facility was “a momentous step that has the potential to save millions of lives and entire economies from one of the greatest systemic threats we face”. The PEF provides the countries covered with $425m of protection over an initial three years. This $425m is made up of support from the insurance and reinsurance markets with the proceeds of World Bank-issued pandemic catastrophe bonds. Should it ever be called on, the hope is the funds available will stem the tide of an infectious disease outbreak before it reaches the pandemic stage. With the figures from AIR and Metabiota showing the possible impact of a modern day 1918 flu outbreak concerning to say the least, the world can hope that such epidemics can be snuffed out at early on. To access the original article, please click here.  

Scientists Discover New Ebolavirus in Bats in Sierra Leone

Scientists have identified a novel ebolavirus in free-tailed bats in Sierra Leone, providing the strongest evidence to date that bats are the natural hosts of these viruses. The new virus, called Bombali virus, was found in insectivorous bats roosting inside people’s houses. Based on laboratory experiments, researchers from the University of California, Davis, and the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health report that the virus has the potential to infect human cells but stress that it is not known whether it has actually infected people or if it is harmful. The new virus was discovered by UC Davis’ One Health Institute working with Columbia’s Center for Infection and Immunity (CII), the government of Sierra Leone, the University of Makeni and Metabiota as part of the PREDICT Ebola Host Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). To read more of this article, please click here.

Lessons learned from the Zika outbreak: what do they mean for the next big outbreak?

From Corporate Risk and Insurance Magazine ... The 2016 global outbreak of Zika caught the international public health community and the world by surprise. Zika was previously thought to be a fairly innocuous virus and by the time scientists recognized Zika could have severe outcomes, including birth defects and Guillain-Barre syndrome, the virus had already spread widely in South America. The public reacted by cancelling flights, changing vacation destinations, and avoiding areas with known transmission risk leading to major social and economic disruption. The unexpected spread and newly discovered symptoms associated with Zika demonstrated gaps in the international community’s ability to prepare, respond to, and manage pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential. Epidemiologists from Metabiota, the provider of epidemic risk modeling, discuss the 2016 Zika outbreak, the decline in cases, and why now is the time for corporations to prepare, assess and manage risk before the next global-impacting outbreak. Jaclyn Guerrero: Hey Patrick, I can’t believe we have already hit summer, also known as mosquito season. Have you seen some of the recent articles on increased transmission of vector-borne diseases? Looks like as we hit the beach this summer we should be grabbing mosquito repellant as well as sunscreen! Patrick Ayscue: Ha! That’s probably not a bad idea. Have you been following the Zika news this year, too? It looks like the numbers are quite a bit lower in the Western hemisphere after all the activity in the last few years. JG: I have seen that but with the decrease in cases, there really hasn’t been much news about current Zika cases. It is hard to imagine that it was just two years ago when people were canceling trips and avoiding areas where there was Zika transmission. Now it seems like Zika is hardly on people’s minds which is alarming because the risk of Zika transmission remains. What are some of the biggest lessons that you took away from the recent outbreak? PA: Two things really stick out to me. One is that we don’t know what or where the next large outbreak will be, and it can come from unexpected places. We have known about Zika since 1947 and had never seen any strong indication it was anything other than a mild febrile illness. We don’t know where the next event will happen, and we should move to prepare for the inevitability of another large outbreak. For more on this interview and article, click here.

Epidemic Insurance for Travel & Tourism

Epidemic risk modelling company Metabiota has announced the development of a new Pathogen Sentiment Index, a tool designed to map public anxieties and behavioural trends that have been driven and altered by outbreaks of infectious diseases. In partnership with reinsurer Munich Re and broker and risk management solutions provider Marsh, the index will be used as the basis of new, ‘cutting-edge’ epidemic insurance solutions for the travel and tourism industry. Hotels, airports, cruise ships and other similar entities will soon have access to business interruption policies based on ‘public fear triggers’, protecting them against potentially catastrophic financial losses that might result from a severe epidemic. “The Zika virus may end up costing Latin America and the Caribbean up to $18 billion,” noted Metabiota in a press release. “And the US economy has already been directly impacted by the spread of the virus.” And while the travel and tourism industry will see major benefits, other businesses will stand to benefit as well. For more on the story, visit this link.

Using Modern Data and Analytics To Confront the Challenge of Epidemic Risk

One hundred years ago, in the spring of 1918, the world was in the early phase of a global disaster that came to be known as the Spanish flu. By the time it ended a year later, the pandemic had killed tens of millions of people. If the 1918 influenza pandemic happened today, the spread of the disease would be much different, impacted by the tripling of the human population, changes in land use, and the massive increase in global connectivity through air travel. But some elements would be the same: Millions would die, millions more would become ill, and the economic devastation to countries, companies, and individuals would be staggering. It has become common to view such events as rare “black swans.” This is far from the case. Over the past five years, the world has been hit with hundreds of notable outbreaks: The West African Ebola outbreak, MERS, Zika, and H7N9 captured global attention. Recognizing that outbreaks that would have once remained localized are now of global concern, countries and international agencies have highlighted the importance of a swift response. This is illustrated in the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there have been 64 cases and 28 deaths reported in three health zones in Equateur Province. Click here to read the full article, which is the first in a four-part series.