Contained or contagious? The future of infectious disease in ageing societies

Increased longevity should be celebrated as one of society’s greatest accomplishments. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to adapt to the new profile of our ageing society if we are to maximise the potential benefits of longevity. And health systems have a key role to play in this.

2018/19 marked the centenary of the deadly Spanish flu (influenza) pandemic. As part of a global programme to explore how policymakers should address the issue of infectious disease in the future, the ILC organised a series of discussion events bringing together policymakers, health systems experts and practitioners in Toronto, London and Boston. This was an opportunity to discuss global progress in tackling infectious disease since the pandemic ended in 1919, the challenges faced by the global community in the context of an ageing population, and how governments, industry and civil society can be better prepared for future outbreaks of infectious disease.

This report draws input from the meetings in Toronto, London and Boston. It argues that although we’ve made huge strides in combatting infectious disease, through improvements in hygiene and sanitation, clean water and preventative health interventions such as vaccinations, there is no room for complacency.

Recent decades have seen renewed infectious disease pandemics. A number of risk factors are currently increasing the likelihood of future outbreaks: these include complacency around vaccination uptake, lack of awareness of the risks of infectious disease, anti-microbial resistance, climate change and global population migration.

In an ageing society, in which more of the population have multiple conditions, there tends to be a higher incidence rate of infectious disease as well as a higher rate of medical complications resulting from disease.

To adequately prepare for future outbreaks, we need: 

  • Greater investment in preventative interventions throughout people’s lives;
  • Greater international cooperation on infectious disease risks;
  • Better digital records that share patient health information with all healthcare actors;
  • Better access to preventative health services for people of all ages, abilities and in all locations;
  • Consistent messaging across government, healthcare professionals and civil society on the risk of infectious disease and the promotion of healthy behaviours;
  • Personalised awareness campaigns that foster champions for infectious disease prevention.


Financial support for the development of this report was provided as a charitable donation from Pfizer.

Author: Lily Parsey