GENEVA, Switzerland– On Feb. 13, 2014, a global health summit known as The Global Health Security Agenda convened in Washington and Geneva to launch an effort to better prevent, detect and respond to outbreaks of infectious disease. The initiative, consisting of twenty-seven individual countries, stands as a response to the fact that the vast majority of countries are largely unprepared to detect and contain disease outbreaks within their borders.
In our ever-more globalized world, this poses both a health challenge to individual citizens, as well as a threat to our national security as a whole.
This lesson could not have been made more clear following the SARS epidemic in China eleven years ago. The disease infected some 8,000 people, took the lives of 775 individuals, and inflicted over 30 billion in economic damage. The emergence of the outbreak caught the world’s attention and made health threats a top priority on the global agenda.
This is not the first time that such a global health initiative has been attempted.
In 2005, following the SARS epidemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) oversaw the revision of the International Health Regulations. This piece of legislation required its 194 signatory countries to improve their disease detection, prevention, and response abilities by June 2012. Some of the core requirements included responding to new strains of influenza and Ebola, as well as strengthening disease surveillance systems.
By the end of the deadline, 84% of the signatory countries had failed to do this.
The previous incapacity of countries to meet these demands was largely due to their lack of scientific capacity, trained epidemiologists and healthcare infrastructure. Since then, the United States has launched multiple pilot programs in an attempt to resolve this.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched successful programs in both Uganda and Vietnam. The Uganda project, for example, has strengthened its local public health agencies to set up an efficient system for the collection and testing of fluid samples. They have also increased and expanded their lab capacity to cover more diseases including Ebola, cholera and drug-resistant tuberculosis.
It is efforts such as that put forth in Uganda that have created the inspiration for a worldwide Global Health Security Agenda. Some of its main goals include strengthening and linking disease-monitoring systems between countries, developing real-time electronic reporting systems and minimizing the number of labs that store dangerous microbes.
The initiative is slated to be quite costly, with the Pentagon already spending nearly 300 million a year to build laboratories and other healthcare infrastructure overseas. The CDC will supposedly allocate 40 million of its budget to duplicate projects like those found in Uganda and Vietnam, in at least ten other countries.
Completing the initiative will take a number of years, as President Barack Obama has created a five-year project that won’t start until 2015. He will be asking to increase the CDC budget by $45 million. This money will be distributed between 30 countries with a total population of at least 4 billion, in order to increase their disease-fighting capacity within five years.
By the end of the project the target countries will, among other things, be able to:
- Monitor and slow antimicrobial resistance, with at least one reference laboratory that can identify and report on worrisome pathogens,
- Conduct real-time biosurveillance and deploy effective modern diagnostics that can reliably obtain and test specimens from at least 80% of the country,
- And have a workforce that includes physicians, veterinarians, biostatisticians, laboratory scientists, and at least one trained field epidemiologist per 200,000 population.
These are only some of the long list of goals that the Global Health Security Agenda hopes to accomplish in the increasingly inter-connected world in which we live. On the eve of the launch of the project, CDC Director Thomas Frieden exclaimed, “A much safer world really is within our reach.”
– Mollie O’Brien