Dr Ian Lipkin

Dr Ian Lipkin

As a CEO one has to be prepared for any wild card event, an event which rarely happens but one which could affect your business in a major way. Prof. Ian Lipkin of Colombia University started day 3 of the THiNK 2012 talking about just this.

The risk of a viral pandemic is real and increasing. Most of the diseases are zoonotic i.e. they originate in animals. Once a disease moves it can easily spread across a continent and beyond. SARS was the first pandemic of the 21st century. Interestingly one can map this spread pretty well and enable one also to see how fast a viral infection can spread. The high number of flights around the world makes it no longer an issue of us and them to be mobile. For various reasons such as population density, hygiene etc, the Indian subcontinent has a high risk of a viral disease originating.

High throughput sequencing enables a fast taxonomy and luckily this process gets cheaper by the year. Dr Lipkin highlighted a Zambian travel agent who was sick and contaminated everybody she came across with. Most died. The disease had a mortality rate of over 80%. Imagine if the sequencing had not been done fast enough. A disease in Chile caused the stock exchange to drop by 5% reflecting the immediate economic impact.

Dr Lipkin wrote an article on “Improving the nation’s ability to detect and respond to 21st century urgent health threats.” which was not read by the politicians. Not even the abridged version of it. Curiously, instead he was approached for a movie to be made on the topic. This movie is called “Anatomy of a Pandemic”.

HSBC did a study a few years ago on what would happen if 50% of their staff would be affected. It pays to be well prepared.

I cannot help but think we will hear of Dr Lipkin again…


March 31, 2020 - Listen to Dr Lipkin speaking on CNBC about the Corona crisis and the need to invest in public health.