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. 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. 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.