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.

This year’s report includes six case studies that illustrate how responsive health systems are the bedrock of epidemic prevention. These powerful stories collectively show how responsive health systems—and responsive health workers—enable swift and coordinated action in detecting and responding to outbreaks before they spiral into disasters.

Image Credit: Jonathan Torgovnik via Getty Images. 


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.

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

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