TACOMA, Washington — On January 21, 2021, Representatives Steve Chabot and Gerry Connolly reintroduced the Global Health Security Act in Congress. While a previous version of the bill (H.R. 2166) passed the House of Representatives in September 2020 with 82 co-sponsors, the legislation died in the 116th Congress as the bill stalled in the Senate.
What is the Global Health Security Act?
Initially introduced on April 9, 2019, the legislation moves to strengthen the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) by implementing the GHSA Interagency Review Council and a coordinating official. The Global Health Security Agenda is a multinational initiative created back in 2014 to address global infectious disease threats.
If the bill passes, the Interagency Review Council would be responsible for creating policy recommendations to accomplish GHSA goals, coordinating with federal agencies and partners to succeed in their implementation and reviewing the progress made in achieving GHSA commitments. This review of progress would also entail the council to address any challenges faced in preventing any infectious disease threats, including aiding other nations in meeting GHSA goal targets and prioritizing GHSA initiatives among partnering federal agencies.
The Global Health Security Act also proposes the president appoint a U.S. official coordinator that would lead Global Health Security initiatives and coordinate the interagency process in responding to global health security threats.
Strengthening Global Health Security Initiatives
In February 2014, the Obama Administration created the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) as a “response to the global threat that infectious diseases constitute in our increasingly interconnected world,” according to GHSA’s platform. The GHSA refers to outbreaks such as SARS in 2002, H1N1 influence in 2009, MERS-CoV in 2012 and Ebola in 2014 as some of the critical epidemics that have resulted in “devasting human, security and economic impacts at the country, regional and global levels.”
The key objectives of the GHSA are to improve nations’ capacities to prevent, detect and address infectious diseases and viruses. The GHSA also works to highlight global health security, advance multi-sectoral collaborations and tackle measurable targets at regional and national levels.
The Global Health Security Act reintroduced in the House builds upon the GHSA’s commitments in mitigating the threat of infectious diseases worldwide. Thus, if the legislation passes, the council would work alongside the GHSA to ensure the implementation of efficient global health security policies.
While the U.S. and 40 other member nations signed a bill to extend the GHSA until 2024 in October 2017, there is still much to do to secure national and global health security.
Why is the Global Health Security Act Critical Today?
The GHSA was introduced in the House of Representatives two years ago, long before COVID-19 struck the world. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic after the virus affected 114 countries in three months, infecting more than 118,000 people worldwide.
The increasing globalization and the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated the essential nature of the Global Health Security Act. Currently, the U.S. does not have a permanently designated official responsible for coordinating the multilateral response to global health security threats or emergencies. Thus, despite the establishment of the GHSA, the U.S. global health security agencies and initiatives are reliant on an executive order instead of working independently to address challenges in global health security.
The unexpected swarm of COVID-19 cases worldwide has shown how a designated U.S. coordinator and a council are needed to respond to global health security emergencies swiftly.
Congressman Chabot on the Necessity of the Global Health Security Act
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Congressman Chabot delved deep into the matter as to why the act is vital today. “As the [novel]coronavirus pandemic shows, diseases don’t know borders,” states Chabot. “By helping other countries strengthen their hospitals and labs, we [the U.S.]can identify and contain emerging diseases before they get to the United States.”
Expanding on strengthening national security against infectious diseases, Chabot explains that the Global Health Security Act “seeks to solidify U.S. commitments to the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA)” while also working to “strengthen existing bureaucracy to ensure that the numerous agencies that are involved in responding to a global health crisis are all working together.”
Additionally, the legislation aids at-risk populations globally by aiming “to strengthen hospitals and labs in countries around the world that most need assistance.”
Organizations Endorsing the Global Health Security Act
As of January 2021, the Global Health Security Act is endorsed by 13 organizations. Besides the support of The Borgen Project, the following organizations recognize the need for the bill: the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), the American Society for Microbiology, ChildFund International, Global Citizen, Global Health Council, International Medical Corps, IntraHealth International, John Hopkins Center for Health Security, Management Science for Health (MSH), Nuclear Threat Initiative, the ONE Campaign, PATH and the Sabin Vaccine Institute.
Vice-President of Policy and Communications of The Borgen Project, Kim Thelwell, states, “The Borgen Project applauds the leadership of Reps. Connelly and Chabot in reintroducing this important piece of legislation that ensures the U.S. will take the lead in implementing a global health security strategy to address future public health threats and curb their spread across borders.” The Borgen Project held 358 meetings with Members of Congress and their staff about the initial Global Health Security Act in 2019 and 2020.
The bipartisan reintroduction of the Global Health Security Act codifies U.S. commitments under the GHSA to build countries’ capacity to mitigate infectious disease threats and establish secure global health. Amid the ongoing threat of COVID-19 worldwide, the passing of the act is critical to start taking action in mitigating global health threats.
“The Global Health Security Act is critical, especially during this time of need. The Borgen Project and our team of grassroots volunteers look forward to mobilizing and advocating for support of this bipartisan effort to save lives globally while protecting the health and well-being of all Americans,” adds Thelwell.
To take action now and voice support for global health security, please visit The Borgen Project’s Action Center and email your congressional leaders asking them to co-sponsor the Global Health Security Act.
– Melissa Barrientos