SEATTLE, Washington — In April 2019, Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) reintroduced the Global Health Security Act. The act was first introduced in December 2018 but never passed in the House of Representatives. With increasing awareness of global health security risks, legislators are hopeful that the bill will galvanize more congressional support this time around.
The Global Health Security Act
The Global Health Security Act aims “To authorize a comprehensive, strategic approach for United States foreign assistance to developing countries to strengthen global health security.” This strategic approach includes the establishment of a Global Health Security Agenda Interagency Review Council, which will be comprised of representatives from over 15 agencies. It will also provide key policy-recommendations and develop an annual report addressing the progress and challenges of global health security. Furthermore, the act would designate a Special Advisor to the president to coordinate global responses to security risks and provide congressional briefings concerning global health security.
The Global Health Security Act builds upon the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). GHSA is an initiative created “in response to the global threat that infectious diseases constitute in our increasingly interconnected world.” The Obama Administration created the GHSA in 2014 to emphasize multi-sectoral engagement and multilateral support aimed to mitigate the threat of infectious diseases around the world. For this reason, the Global Health Security Act works collaboratively with the GHSA to ensure efficient global health security policies are implemented. In October 2017, the U.S., along with 40 other member nations, signed a bill to extend the GHSA until 2024. This reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a global health security alliance.
The Importance of the Act
The Global Health Security Act comes at a critical time as globalization increases the risk of a global pandemic. The Hill touted the act’s importance with the onset of the Coronavirus in December 2019. It explained that “for unusual, high consequence, biological events, like the Ebola or coronavirus outbreaks, overarching, senior-level, clear coordination is essential because the normal interagency process becomes muddled.” The Act would provide that coordination.
Furthermore, a clearly defined health strategy is crucial for the populations who are most adversely affected by pandemics. Vulnerable communities, including those without financial stability or access to adequate healthcare, are disproportionately impacted by international pandemics. “When outbreaks begin, the poor are also more likely to have already been suffering from malnutrition and immunosuppressive conditions, which can increase susceptibility to infectious diseases,” according to the Brookings Institute.
The impacts of biological threats extend far beyond health implications. In fact, they threaten economic security. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that pandemics will cost more than $6 trillion in the next century. Hospital visits and medications are the immediate causes; however, aversion to travel, tourism and retail will contribute substantially to economic decline in the weeks and months following an outbreak. Fortunately, the CDC found that investing $4.5 billion a year in preventative programs would avoid this cost not only for the U.S. but for countries that rely on the U.S. for economic support and trade.
When the Global Health Security Act was first introduced to Congress in 2018, bipartisan support for the issue grew rapidly. Similar bipartisan support has been echoed by the Obama and Trump Administrations as both have supported global health security measures during their time in office.
Following the release of the National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats in 2009, President Barack Obama cemented his support for global health security with an Executive Order to advance the Global Health Security Agenda in order to keep the world safe from infectious diseases. This was the executive order responsible for establishing the GHSA. In 2018, President Donald Trump released a National Biodefense Strategy to “promote a more efficient, coordinated, and accountable biodefense enterprise.”
Nonprofit support for global health security has also expanded. Today, ChildFund International, Global Health Council, International Medical Corps, IntraHealth International, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Nuclear Threat Initiative, PATH, the American Society of the Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and Management Sciences for Health have all endorsed the Global Health Security Act.
“Saving lives from the next global pandemic starts with investing in preparedness before it strikes,” according to Rep. Gerald E. Connolly. While the threat of global pandemic increases, global preparedness for such an event can increase as well. Acting after a disaster strikes is not enough to save those who are most vulnerable to global health risks. By contacting congressional leaders and urging them to pass the Global Health Security Act, people can ensure the protection of vulnerable communities and create a safe environment in which the global economy can flourish.
– Aly Hill