One of the many reminders from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we must be vigilant in order to prevent, detect, and respond to the invisible enemy of infectious diseases. Stopping infectious disease outbreaks at their source is crucial to protecting health and safety, promoting economic prosperity, and defending national security interests. The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) can play a role in this effort, particularly as it holds its sixth Ministerial November 18-20 under the Royal Thai Government’s leadership. The initiative is dedicated to ensuring the health safety of people worldwide. As we join this year’s ministerial, amidst the most profound health crisis of our time, it’s important to reflect on progress made, and opportunities for the future.
The United States joined the initial coalition of countries to launch the GHSA multilateral initiative in 2014, recognizing that we needed to do more to strengthen global health security and protect the health of people worldwide. For the last six years, GHSA has served as a premier model of transparent and accountable global engagement for preventing and addressing infectious disease threats, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate.
One of the novel aspects of the GHSA’s call to action was the understanding that all sectors within and outside of government must be at the table to shape policy and steer activities that stop outbreaks at their source. The GHSA is not only multilateral, convening more than 70 countries from all regions; it is also multi-sectoral, engaging both health and security focused government agencies, international organizations, and representatives of non-governmental and private sectors.
In 2018, the United States and other member countries re-affirmed the GHSA and launched the GHSA 2024 Initiative Target, which aims for more than 100 countries to complete an evaluation of their internal health security capabilities, including strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in addressing health emergencies. The Target also calls for these countries to make political commitments, increase investments, and demonstrate improvements in at least five technical areas that positively impact their preparedness.
As a founding member of the GHSA, the United States is committed to its success and to the achievement of the 2024 Target by leveraging our own whole-of-government approach domestically and when helping partners overseas. This remains a core tenet of the U.S. . For example, we remain actively committed with more than $428 million in fiscal year 2020 funds, along with in-country technical teams, to support strengthening and sustaining technical capacities and preparedness of partner countries. With this assistance, our partners may be better equipped to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats at their source, including COVID-19.
This work has lasting, life-saving impact. Here are just a few examples:
Effective public outreach is key in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, and the United States has taken many actions to make a difference worldwide. In Nigeria, the U.S. government partnered with Airtel to communicate messaging on social distancing, safe hygiene practices, and other health measures to over one million people per day. In Haiti, U.S. government investments helped install over 3,573 hand washing stations in markets, bus stations, religious centers, and water points enabling more than one million people to wash their hands as a key COVID-19 prevention measure. In Uganda, a national team – supported by the United States – conducted Ebola vaccinations of 7,900 healthcare workers and contacts as part of national Ebola viral disease preparedness and response.
Rapid testing and evaluation is critical in determining if people are sick. Whether we are dealing with COVID-19 or myriad other infectious disease threats, the United States is helping countries build their capacity to take action. In Senegal, the U.S. government’s GHSA investment helped develop the country’s national public health laboratory network, as well as emergency infrastructure, management tools, and testing capabilities crucial to its COVID-19 response. Our GHSA investments also enabled Senegal’s Institut Pasteur of Dakar to train other West and Central African laboratories and provide them with initial COVID-19 test kits. In Vietnam, U.S. government GHSA investments supported the Vietnam Administration of Medical Services to conduct training on sample collection and laboratory testing for SARS-CoV-2 across 56 hospitals and public health agencies in 16 provinces. In Burkina Faso, a U.S. government-supported community event-based surveillance system identified an Anthrax outbreak among donkeys and implemented control measures to prevent spillover to humans. Their success is now a best practices model for other countries seeking to improve community-level surveillance.
The ability to act quickly and decisively to respond to an infectious disease threat is vital to containing it at its source. When the most recent outbreak of Ebola was announced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the country’s eleventh outbreak, the U.S. government quickly began its support of the DRC Ministry of Health’s response. As part of this support, health experts deployed to the affected region to help contain the outbreak and also provided neighboring countries with preparedness assistance for potential cross-border spread. Graduates from the U.S.-supported Field Epidemiology Training Program played an integral role in the national response and case investigations. In Cameroon, the U.S. government supported the training of rapid response teams in COVID-19 surveillance, contact tracing, and infection prevention and control in all ten regions of the country. In India, the U.S. government worked with the National Institute for Health and Family Welfare to provide Rapid Response Team training to 209 staff across 27 states and is developing a master training of trainers for COVID-19 response. This support is helping experts to respond swiftly, better protect loved ones, and minimize the impact on the economy.
Our history of work through the GHSA, and now the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has demonstrated the vital importance of advancing global health security and disease outbreak preparedness not only to protect health and safety, but also to ensure economic prosperity and defend national security interests. Put simply, if people become sick from an infectious disease, the negative impact can be exponential. For over half a century, the United States has been the world’s largest contributor to global health security and humanitarian assistance, devoting almost 23 percent of all U.S. foreign assistance to promote health-related initiatives. The United States and its GHSA partners recognize that stopping outbreaks at their source is crucial and must be addressed through policy, programs, and public awareness. As we look forward, the GHSA Ministerial is helping chart a way towards better global preparedness by convening governments and thought leaders to discuss priorities for action. This year’s ministerial theme, “Bridging Cooperative Action for Global Health Security,” is quite fitting, and the United States will continue to actively support and work with our partners to ensure we get there.
Read the full 2020 Global Health Security Agenda Annual Report here.
Learn how the United States is leading collective action in global health security here.
About the Author: Jonathan Moore serves as the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.