New US Global Health Security Strategy Cements Bilateral Support to 100 Countries
Members of the US West Virginia National Guard’s Task Force Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Response Enterprise (CRE) (TF-CRE) assist staff, medical personnel, and first responders of an Eastbrook Center nursing home with COVID-19 testing.

The US plans to double the number of countries it supports to prevent infectious disease outbreaks, opting for bilateral agreements with at least 100 countries, according to its new Global Health Security Strategy (GHSS).

“Recent outbreaks, from mpox to Marburg, cholera, and other diseases… are wake-up calls for anyone who thought COVID was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Dr Stephanie Psaki, US Coordinator for Global Health Security.

“US national security and prosperity depend on countries around the world being prepared to prevent outbreaks when possible, and to rapidly detect and respond to emerging infectious-disease threats when they occur,” added Psaki, who is also White House National Security Council’s Deputy Senior Director for Global Health and Biodefense. 

“Global health and community health are all interconnected,” remarked Dr Michelle A Williams, former dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health. “A threat anywhere is a threat everywhere when a pathogen can travel anywhere in the world in 72 hours.” 

New roadmap

The GHSS provides a roadmap for strengthening US preparedness for future pandemics and biological threats through expanded global health partnerships. 

The plan will extend US commitments to an additional 50 countries to help protect themselves against outbreaks and pandemic, which will double the countries the US currently supports on public health

“Over the last three years, we have more than doubled our global health partnerships – working directly with 50 countries to ensure they can more effectively prevent, detect, and control outbreaks. And we are working with partners to support an additional 50 countries to save even more lives and minimize economic losses,” writes US President Joe Biden in the plan’s foreword.

The plan “will ensure we remain vigilant to possible threats at this critical moment and help set a more secure, sustainable, and healthy course for our people and for people around the world,” adds Biden.

The GHSS’s three overarching goals are: to strengthen global health security capacities through bilateral partnerships; catalyze political commitment, financing, and leadership; and increasing the linkages between health security and complementary programs. 

The US strategy comes as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 194 member states are struggling to ratify a global pandemic agreement. While the US is participating in these negotiations, historically it has preferred bilateral agreements as a more efficient way to bolster global health security. 

“Collectively the actions that we are taking right now will make the United States and the rest of the world safer from the next pandemic,” said Psaki, who was speaking at a DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies event

COVID-19 lessons

The GHSS notes that the COVID-19 pandemic offered critical lessons, “including on the importance of political leadership, diplomatic engagement, strong and resilient health systems, multisectoral approaches, risk communication and community engagement, research partnerships, and improving equitable access to medical countermeasures.”

These lessons mean that the GHSS pays close attention to areas health security challenges stress like supply chain resiliency, health care delivery, and public health workforce capacity, risk communication, and health equity. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the imperative of building a stronger GHS architecture, including the institutions, organizations, international legal frameworks, policies, and measures to address and respond to health emergencies with international implications while protecting national security and sovereignty,” says the report. 

“We saw how this global health challenge caused local consequences for our hospitals, our schools, and our communities. No sector of the economy or society was immune,” writes Biden in the foreword. 

Complex factors

The GHSS notes the increasingly complex factors shaping global health. “Even as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the key drivers of disease emergence and spread are increasing rapidly, including the growth and mobility of populations, human encroachment on animal habitats, wildlife trade and trafficking, loss of biodiversity and the impact of climate change.”

These risks are further exacerbated by other social and economic factors, including “complex humanitarian crises, environmental degradation, land use change, unsustainable development and rapid urbanization, globalized travel and trade networks, emerging technologies, and inequitable access to existing vaccines.”

This One Health approach means that US global health security policy explicitly promotes  human animal, plant, and environmental health, while also meeting a slew of national and global goals. These goals cover sectors ranging from climate, resilience, food security and nutrition, to economic development, biodiversity, and conservation. 

Preventing spillover events are a key GHHS One Health initiative; the strategy highlights the need for improved veterinary bio-surveillance and biosecurity measures, and rapid information sharing. The developing H5N1 outbreak in dairy cows illustrates the potential for zoonotic diseases to jump to humans. 

New country partnerships

The policy highlights that “core to the US government strategy is working with countries around the world to ensure they are better able to prevent, detect, and respond to global health security threats.”

The US is already working to respond to one such threat – mpox –in the DRC by providing immunizations. 

“The goal is for each partner country, or regional entity, to achieve demonstrated capacity in at least five health security technical areas (eg laboratory systems, surveillance, antimicrobial resistance) based on individual country priorities.”

The US government identifies partner countries based on health security needs and the likelihood and vulnerability of an outbreak. These partnerships, while backed through US funding, stress the importance of initiatives where partner countries “have full ownership and strong capacities, with political, legislative, and financial support for the programs, human resources, and systems necessary to maintain a high level of health security.”

Funding and implementation

Several US agencies will implement this policy including the US State Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Psaki will oversee the multi-agency effort to enact the strategy.

Biden is asking Congress for $1.2 billion to implement this strategy,  which will be channelled mainly to USAID, the State Department, and the CDC. 

Image Credits: U.S. Army National Guard/Edwin L. Wriston.

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