Ending epidemics. It’s an idea that has galvanized scientists, advocates, public health leaders, and humanity for decades, and it’s the ultimate vision behind the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). And while vision is important, action is imperative. After years of neglected global health systems and lack of attention and resources, the world received a wake-up call in 2012 when 80 percent of countries were unable to meet the deadline required by the World Health Organization to prepare for a public health emergency. It was that canary-in-the-coal-mine moment that led the United States, working with partners from all regions of the world, to launch the GHSA in February of 2014. We didn’t know at the time that Ebola had already begun to silently spread in Guinea, ultimately costing over 11,000 lives, billions in economic loss, and posing an unprecedented threat to regional stability in West Africa. Now, more than ever, the world needs this Agenda.
While the GHSA is a global agenda – dependent on all countries to do their part to prepare themselves and to help their neighbors – American leadership has been at the forefront of this initiative and on improving public health around the world. Our leadership in the Ebola epidemic was historic, but it was not rare. Time and time again, when epidemics arise – from HIV/AIDS, to SARS, MERS, and flu – the world counts on the United States, and the United States delivers. But American leadership in global health and global health security is about more than resources – it’s about providing the tools that countries need to build a health system that is capable of helping its people with daily needs, while also being strong and resilient enough to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to outbreaks at the source. The GHSA has been successful because it has provided a way for countries – for the first time – to identify gaps using common metrics, create a step-by-step plan to get prepared, and to measure progress over time.
The GHSA has also been successful because it has brought together every sector of government at home and abroad to bring resources, tools, and assistance to bear towards a common set of targets. As a direct result of our efforts: 22 countries, including the United States, have now undergone a Joint External Evaluation to measure capability and identify and swiftly fill gaps; we have seen expanding nongovernmental, private sector, and emerging leader engagement; a Next Generation GHSA Leaders initiative is growing around the world; and the G-7 Leaders, Nordic and key G-20 partners have stepped up with commitments to assist at least 76 countries and regions.
That’s why President Obama signed an Executive Order today on further Advancing the GHSA, which establishes long-term policy objectives for the United States to build upon, strengthen, and institutionalize these major achievements.
This Executive Order establishes a senior level policy coordination mechanism for the United States Government to support the GHSA initiative and it defines specific roles and responsibilities for participating agencies. Ebola and Zika have shown us that senior officials from across the United States Government must stay engaged and show constant and consistent leadership at the highest level. We don’t have the luxury of ad-hoc approaches – we must synchronize activities and track progress together – from our country teams and Chiefs of Mission leading this effort in the field all the way to agency leadership in Washington and at the White House. And in so doing, we need to ignite other countries to do the same.
The Executive Order will also continue to advance our ability to implement the GHSA here at home, including with a commitment to regularly undergo and publish a Joint External Evaluation of national capability. We will continue to lead by example - as we have done by publishing one of the first external evaluations ever performed – even as we are assisting others.
But, we can’t do this alone. The comprehensive framework we are launching today will have far-reaching impact on our ability to partner with new sectors to prevent, detect, and respond to epidemic threats; leverage the full power and leadership of the United States Government to synchronize assistance across health systems; and move us closer to achieving the vision of a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats.
Today, in signing this Order, President Obama has taken an important step forward toward achieving the vision of ending epidemics and a future in which all countries are prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks.
Amy Pope is Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President at the National Security Council