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Epidemics that didn't happen

As the world emerges into a new normal and looks ahead to better prepare for the next disease threat, Resolve to Save Lives highlights inspiring stories of epidemics that didn't happen.

In 2020, a single outbreak of deadly infectious disease travelled around the world, changing life as we know it. But every year, there are many near misses—outbreaks that are successfully controlled before they become epidemics.

These Epidemics That Didn’t Happen show how the trajectory of an epidemic can be fundamentally altered when a country invests in and prioritizes preparedness for infectious disease outbreaks and readiness to act when they strike. Through this investment and prioritization, we can save millions of lives and trillions of dollars and avert global tragedy in the years to come.

The inaugural report’s case studies illustrated different aspects of effective public health programs related to the key seven technical areas that Resolve to Save Lives team focuses on addressing.


The COVID-19 pandemic revealed gaps in response systems across high, middle- and low-income countries. It is vital leaders across the world assess, and more importantly, improve, governance for public health emergencies. These examples demonstrate that preparedness works.

Between 1980 and 2013, there were more than 12,000 outbreaks of human infectious diseases in 219 countries. As the cases in this report demonstrate, many of these outbreaks were successfully controlled—some before they even became news.

And yet, when COVID-19 hit, the world was not ready. Some countries struggled despite having stronger preparedness systems by traditional metrics, while others with weaker systems managed strong responses. Key factors not captured in traditional metrics of epidemic preparedness—strong and timely policies, good communication and quality of governance—were invaluable to the success of each response.


In moments of public health crisis, communicating clearly and effectively, while working collaboratively with partners and communities, can make an incredible impact on the response. Overall, countries that have been most successful in controlling COVID-19 were both better prepared and had strong governance during their pandemic response. Both factors are needed to save lives.

The case studies presented as Epidemics that Didn’t Happen show that devastating human and economic losses can be avoided. Modest investments, improved health systems and better coordination and communication by determined leaders can put structures in place to find, stop and prevent outbreaks before they spread.

These stories were developed with support from health ministries and global health organizations including: Pan American Health Organization, Infectious Diseases Institute, Kenya Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Health, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Do you know of an epidemic that didn’t happen? If so, we’d love to highlight your story! Please reach out to

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