The need for global health security is clear. People around the world are more connected than in any time in human history. Distances and borders no longer protect humans from diseases, viruses — and epidemics.
Pick any two major cities anywhere in the world — you’ll find that there’s at least one commercial flight each day linking them. Disease requires only the smallest opening to take root and spread. In today’s closely-connected world, diseases travel from an isolated, rural village to any major city in as little as 36 hours.
Additionally, there’s also the potential of accidental, naturally occurring, or deliberate spread of biological threats and dangerous pathogens.
Though our being connected provides a myriad of opportunities for people all over the world, it also poses serious challenges for our health security and for the stability and security of our communities.
The Global Health Security Agenda joins us in facing these global and public health challenges.
Global Health Security Agenda
In 2014, the spread of Ebola across West Africa went undetected for months. The Ebola epidemic provided the world a sense of urgency.
The United States worked with international partners in an effort to beat back the threat of Ebola and strengthen health systems in West Africa.
Global leaders came to the realization that more work needed to be done.
In 2014, when the GHSA was launched, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that more than 70 percent of countries were not properly prepared to address epidemic threats. Countries didn’t have a set of common preparedness standards. And there wasn’t a precise or transparent way to gauge whether a country had strong and reliable laboratories, or enough trained public health workers, or an effective way to quickly and clearly gather and share information.
Senior leaders from around the world — representing government, the private sector, and academia — continue their work to advance the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) and ensure that it is sustained.
Joint External Evaluation for Public Health and Security
The GHSA is critical to our public health and security. Since the inception of GHSA, there is now an open, transparent, independent process to assess and improve global protection against health threats called the Joint External Evaluation (JEE) process.
Developed by the World Health Organization, Finland, the United States, and a collection of GHSA member countries, the JEE is a stress test that allows countries to clearly and unmistakably identify the most urgent needs within their public health system. It also helps to establish national plans to address those needs using common systems and standards.
Often for the first time, JEE is a clear road map any country can follow to strengthen its ability to address biological threats, whether these threats are accidental, naturally occurring, or deliberate. The JEE includes goals agreed to in 2015 by GHSA member countries, as well as a mandate to transparently share results to better ensure accountability.
Until now, 17 countries have completed and published results of their stress tests, with another 32 planning to conduct the tests in the near future. The WHO’s goal is for more than 50 nations to complete their initial assessments by May 2017. Additionally, Global Health Security Agenda hopes and anticipates that within another 1 to 2 years; more than 100 countries will have gone through the process.
Working Together for Global Health
The need to work together for global health is clear. New diseases continue to emerge, drugs become resistant, and more laboratories are processing dangerous microbes.
No one nation can guarantee global health security. But it’s critical to be steadfast and unwavering in our commitment to work with our international partners to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats.
Today, as we face the spread of Zika virus — with the memory of avian influenza and SARS still fresh in our minds, and recovery efforts from Ebola still unending — the Global Health Security Agenda and continued international commitment to advance this unified agenda has never been more relevant — so important, and so urgent.