"...to advance work that unites us all—preventing the spread of disease and saving lives around the world."President Barack Obama, September 9, 2015
Saving lives, that’s what the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) is all about.
Last week from September 7-9 in Seoul, I was proud to join Secretary Burwell and delegations from all over the world for a game-changing High Level Event hosted by President Park and the Republic of Korea to save lives by advancing the Global Health Security Agenda. Ministers and other senior officials from 47 governments, as well as 9 international organizations and over a dozen non-governmental partners, took the podium to pledge specific actions to prevent future outbreaks from becoming epidemics. Most importantly, we reiterated our commitment to assist West African and other at-risk countries from around the world to get to zero, stay at zero, and stay involved long after zero to achieve strong and resilient global healh security systems, with measurable targets, as part of building back better from the Ebola crisis. Our thanks go especially to participants from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, who traveled across the globe to bring their wisdom and to call on others to step up and stay engaged so that what happened in West Africa can never happen again.
The Republic of Korea set an example for the rest of the world by announcing a 100 Million (USD) commitment to advance the GHSA in 13 countries and by issuing the “Seoul Declaration,” a call to action for all countries achieve the Agenda’s targets. Seoul also showed outstanding leadership by inviting GHSA countries to participate in the ROK-U.S. “Able Response” biopreparedness tabletop to demonstrate the value of exercising across all sectors of government to prevent, detect and respond to biological incidents. In the future we hope that countries participating in the GHSA will begin to exercise together, establishing global links across governments and sectors before a crisis occurs.
For our part, the United States will assist at least 30 countries to achieve the GHSA targets by 2020, including 17 countries and $1 billion announced by President Obama in July and additional focus countries to be announced soon. G-7 countries also reiterated their pledge to match our commitment by assisting a collective total of at least 60 countries, which we call upon our partners to announce by the end of 2015.
But, perhaps the most stunning achievement of the week came in the form of countries signing up, including the United States, to undergo external, independent assessments against the GHSA targets – to create a map of the gaps in our global health security architecture, something the world had not yet been able to achieve even in the wake of SARS, the anthrax attacks, H5N1, H1N1, H7N9, MERS and an Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,000 people. Following the White House GHSA event hosted by President Obama last September, the United States, 2015 GHSA Chair Finland, and other GHSA leading countries like Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Canada, Italy and the Republic of Korea, teamed up to pioneer a new way of doing business, working with 5 volunteer countries to successfully test specific global metrics for the GHSA so that such a virtual map of global gaps can be within our reach. The Finnish GHSA Chair and these five countries deserve tremendous thanks and credit for their service: Georgia, Peru, Portugal, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. The new approach to visualizing readiness that was pioneered through this work will allow all countries to measure preparedness for epidemic threats against the same bar and will provide governments and other assistance providers with a common operating picture to prevent, detect and respond to biological events, whether naturally occurring, accidental or the result of a bioterrorism event.
Moving forward, Indonesia will take the reins from Finland to lead the GHSA in 2016, and Netherlands will host next year’s next High Level Event to keep our feet to the fire. But, we must not forget to hold one another accountable for implementing the commitments made in Seoul. For while Seoul was successful by all accounts, the global community must continue to step up smartly, with common targets, unfailing resolve, and synchronized resources if we are realize the vision of a world safe and secure from epidemic threats.
Amy E. Pope is the Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and White House Ebola Response Coordinator.