TACOMA, Washington — On June 28, 2021, the Global Health Security Act of 2021 was passed in the House of Representatives. This critical legislation ensures a permanent designated official is responsible for coordinating disease prevention and pandemic response, as well as a Global Health Security Agenda Interagency Review Council. The Act aims to increase the U.S.’s ability to prepare for and respond to public health threats while reducing or preventing their spread across borders. Once passed in Senate, this bill would play a pivotal role in elevating health security as a global priority and expanding the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) initiative.
History and Introduction of the Bill
Republican and Democratic presidents alike have recognized the significance of global health security, from President Obama launching the GHSA initiative to President Trump establishing the National Biodefense Strategy. The Act was first introduced in December 2018 but did not pass in the House of Representatives. However, in April 2019, Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) reintroduced the Act as the Global Health Security Act of 2020.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Rep. Chabot explained the significance of the Act, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As the [novel]coronavirus pandemic shows, diseases don’t know borders, 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,” stated Rep. Chabot. Now, with the act successfully passing House, there are many hopes for the impactful bill.
Explaining The Global Health Security Act
Once passed in the Senate, the Act would seek to solidify U.S. commitments to the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). GHSA is a multilateral initiative that was established in 2014 to help strengthen healthcare systems globally. The Global Health Security Act of 2021 follows GHSA’s vision and, if passed, would reestablish global partnerships between the U.S. and 30 other nations in order to launch health security plans. Furthermore, Rep. Chabot states that the Act will “strengthen existing bureaucracy to ensure that the numerous agencies that are involved in responding to a global health crisis are all working together.” The Act has a multifaceted plan including many components, such as:
- Launching a GHSA interagency review council
- Assigning a U.S. Global Health Security coordinator who will lead the interagency responses to any health-related emergencies
- Developing a global health security strategy with measurable goals, performance metrics and milestones
- Establishing an international Fund for Global Health Security and Pandemic Preparedness
The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) Initiative
In February 2014, the GHSA was put into motion to create a more secure world that can handle the global threat of infectious diseases. The GHSA was created in response to the rise in outbreaks such as SARS (2002), H1N1 influenza (2009), MERS-CoV (2012), H7N9 influenza (2013) and Ebola (2014).
The Global Health Security Act is critical not only to combat COVID-19 but also other threats that are still present amid the current pandemic, as indicated from GHSA’s creation. For example, the Ebola virus disease (EVD) is one of the deadliest viral diseases and currently lacks proper containment and prevention efforts. In March of 2021, Guinea had an outbreak that reached 17 cases of Ebola. Past outbreaks and the current rise of Ebola and COVID-19 cases prove the necessity of a strategic and coordinated plan that can handle all types of infectious diseases.
The accelerated speed at which infectious diseases spread, along with the devastating toll they take on human beings, economies and global systems around the world, make it a serious and pressing matter that requires immediate action. Limited aid resulting from mobility restrictions and overwhelmed healthcare staff are among the many adverse side effects and unintended shortages that occurred during the current pandemic. These complications prove the shortcomings of the current pandemic response system. The Global Health Security Act would extend GHSA’s vision and outreach.
The Act’s Importance Amid COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some of the inadequacies in the current pandemic response strategy and has shown the need for a coordinated federal response to such crises. The devastating toll and rapid spread of COVID-19 globally show the critical need for pandemic preparedness and strong healthcare systems worldwide. This is gruesomely displayed in the more than 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 that have been recorded to date in India. In addition, paralyzing shortages have forced hospitals in India to turn down patients due to a lack of beds and oxygen. A comprehensive and sustainable approach to global health security is imperative to ensure that all governments worldwide are prepared to handle and mitigate the spread of any infectious disease threats.
The Global Health Security Act and Global Poverty
The Borgen Project recognizes the importance of the Global Health Security Act in global poverty reduction efforts. The Act would also ensure that those in low-to-middle-income countries are not disproportionately affected by outbreaks of diseases. Since January of 2020, The Borgen Project has mobilized people around the country to send 23,262 emails to Congress about the Global Security Act. Being one of the GHSA’s endorsers, The Borgen Project celebrates this next step in ensuring that global health is made a priority.
– Arya Baladevigan