Global health security means having strong public health and emergency response systems in place around the world to stop the spread of infectious diseases across borders and to detect, prevent, and respond to biological threats – from emerging infectious diseases, man-made pathogens, and biological weapons to other pandemics and preventable diseases.

In an increasingly interconnected world, where diseases know no borders, global health security efforts are vital to protecting both health around the world and the health of American citizens.

Global health security starts at home – making sure the United States has the tools to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious diseases and biological threats. However, it is critical that efforts also address building systems and capacity in low- and middle-income countries with weak health infrastructures that prevent them from adequately responding to disease outbreaks. Strong health systems are critical to ensuring that countries have the capacity to respond to disease outbreaks and prevent them from becoming global epidemics.

Individual country governments cannot do this alone, and it will require a collaborative, cohesive, and comprehensive response across sectors, including governments, the private sector, multilateral organizations, academia, and civil society. Global health security is at the intersection of multiple sectors and provides a unique opportunity for international cooperation.

The International Health Regulations (IHR), developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), were adopted in 2007 to provide a framework for the coordination and management of public health emergencies and build capacity of countries to detect, assess, notify, and respond to such threats.[1] The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) was launched in 2014 with the leadership of the U.S. and partners to help countries meet the obligations of the IHR.


Integrated Health Project in the DRC Credit: Warren Zelman

Support global health programming that strengthens health systems in low- and middle-income countries. Strong health systems with the necessary resources and personnel are vital for prevention, detection, and response. This should include funding and adequate support for infrastructure projects, workforce development, and technical assistance to effectively deliver the necessary products to those in need.

Integrated Health Project in the DRC Credit: Warren Zelman

Continue to support the GHSA to ensure that countries can meet the goals of the IHR. This should include robust funding for GHSA and the agencies that play a role in advancing global health security, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Agency for International Development; and the Departments of State, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Defense.

Integrated Health Project in the DRC Credit: Warren Zelman

Ensure that research and development for new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other health tools are prioritized in global health security and pandemic and emergency response strategies. Emerging infectious disease is a perpetual challenge, and we will not have the tools we need to respond to the next epidemic without forward-thinking, sustainable investments in global health research and development.

Encourage cooperation and coordination among the various actors that have a role to play in global health security: this includes GHSA partner countries, the public and private sectors, civil society, and academia. Since human health is inextricably linked with animal and environmental health, it is also important to encourage coordination and cooperation with physicians, veterinarians, and other scientific and environmental professionals. This is an opportunity to advance shared goals around public health, international development, national security, and diplomacy.


Infectious disease outbreaks and other emerging global health threats are occurring with increasing frequency and severity. Factors including globalization, urbanization, climate change, and the ease of travel and trade mean that dangerous pathogens are more easily transported and spread across the world, with no respect for national boundaries. As seen with recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika, infectious diseases that traditionally only impacted other regions are having direct consequences for American health.

Strong health systems in both high-income and low- and middle-income countries are vital to detecting, preventing, and responding to natural and man-made biological threats that can jeopardize global and American health. In turn, as global health threats affect not only health systems but also economies, strong health systems can also support economic growth – and ensure that progress in global health and economic development through U.S. foreign aid investments are not reversed.

The GHSA, a global initiative of 55 countries, is a first step in mobilizing the international community behind a common set of global health security principles, and it provides a roadmap to strengthen countries’ capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to health threats.[2] Member countries have identified 11 Action Packages, meant to translate political support into action around health security. Partner countries are leading the Action Packages that are focused on antimicrobial resistance; zoonotic diseases; biosafety and biosecurity; immunizations; national laboratory systems; real-time surveillance; reporting; workforce development; emergency operations centers; links between public health, law and multi-sectoral rapid response; and medical countermeasures and personnel deployment. Countries may volunteer to undergo a Joint External Evaluation (JEE) to assess their capacity under the IHR for health security. The JEE allows countries to identify and prioritize their greatest areas of need and to engage with potential partners for support.[3] The GHSA demonstrates an international commitment to global health security and a mechanism through which U.S. investments in global health security can be leveraged to support investment and action from partner countries.

Public investments in global health security and the GHSA also leverage support and action from the private sector. Private sector companies have made explicit efforts to support countries in strengthening their health security, and they have a unique value in their efficiency and ability to mobilize resources, scale up efforts, and innovate solutions. For example, the GHSA Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT) aims to be the touchpoint for industry stakeholders interested in supporting countries in reaching the goals of the GHSA. It works to align companies’ business objectives, existing resources, expertise, and capabilities with public health needs around health security.

Future outbreaks and new strains of disease will always be on the horizon, and threats such as antimicrobial resistance are on the rise. In addition, weak health systems can also open the door for increased risk of unintentional (or intentional) misuse of dangerous pathogens and biological materials. Strong health systems with robust detection, response, and prevention capabilities – including sustained research and development for new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics – are critical both to preventing and mitigating health crises and to fulfilling routine health care functions to promote healthy, prosperous societies.


  1. Global Health Security Agenda
  2. International Health Regulations


Katie Zabronsky, Rabin Martin,
Courtney Carson, Global Health Technologies Coalition,
Ashley Arabasadi, No More Epidemics, Management Sciences for Health,
Danielle Heiberg, Global Health Council,


[1] “Alert, response, and capacity building under the International Health Regulations (IHR): About IHR.”

[2] “Health Protection.”

[3] “The Global Health Security Agenda.”

©2017 Global Health Council