Large-scale infectious disease emergencies have disastrous impacts on families, societies, systems, and economies. For example, the impact of the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa stretched well beyond the estimated 11,310 deaths and the 28,616 known infections. Many health workers were lost and health systems were unable to cope—severely restricting access to routine and life-saving health services. Millions of children lost months of schooling—many never returned—and thousands of children lost parents, siblings, and family members. Disruptions to markets and livelihoods also had dire consequences for the poorest communities.
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing similar systemic challenges across health systems, economies, and communities, but at a global scale, and countries around the world are struggling to respond. Ebola, COVID-19, and other major outbreaks in recent years – including influenza, Zika, plague, diphtheria, and yellow fever – demonstrate that governments, donors, and aid agencies are severely challenged in their response and coordination capacity, highlighting gaps in the global humanitarian community’s ability to respond to major infectious disease outbreaks, particularly those that escalate to public health emergencies of international concern.
In 2018, the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance funded Save the Children to lead a three-year initiative to augment global capacity to respond to major disease outbreaks. Through a consortium of partners, the READY initiative supplements existing efforts to strengthen coordination between global humanitarian outbreak structures and operational organizations responding to outbreaks. Additionally, READY is building and retaining capacity among operational consortium members, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other stakeholders in priority regions and countries to more quickly and effectively respond to major outbreaks with an integrated approach that addresses holistic needs of affected communities—with community engagement and communications at the center. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in December 2019, READY has pivoted its programming to focus exclusively on COVID-19 readiness for NGOs, strengthening coordination, operational capacity, and technical preparedness to support a holistic and integrated response to the pandemic.