(James Gathany/CDC)

‘Global Health Security Is National Security’: New Strategy Defines Agency Roles

The Trump administration’s new Global Health Security Strategy released Thursday looks to “maximize impact through collective global action and create a safer world by closing the gap that diseases exploit,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Since 2014 the U.S. has had a Global Health Security Agenda; the official said that “is something that we are using to make significant progress towards stronger country-level health security capacity.”

The stated purpose of the strategy is to prevent, detect and respond to “infectious disease threats at home and abroad, whether naturally occurring, unintentional, or deliberate.”

“The increase in the number of naturally occurring outbreaks over the past 15 years (e.g., influenza, Ebola, Zika, and Rift Valley fever) and the risk posed by an accidental or deliberate release of pathogens highlights the critical need for robust prevention, detection, and response mechanisms,” states the report. “Infectious diseases can spread across species, and many human diseases have animal origins. Achieving global health security requires a sustained, coordinated, multisectoral approach that incorporates an understanding of the linkages between human, animal, and environmental health.”

The main goals detailed in the strategy are strengthening global health security capacities with partner nations, using “bilateral, regional, and multilateral engagements to encourage countries to make health security a national priority, and to invest in their own domestic capacities,” and making the homeland more resilient to biothreats including “accelerated research on medical countermeasures, increased opportunities as appropriate and planning for clinical trials during emergency response, and better communications with affected populations on public health measures, including vector control and research goals.”

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USAID will helm many of the international efforts, the strategy outlines responsibilities expected to be shouldered by various government agencies. At the Department of Homeland Security, that role will be to “implement and coordinate DHS programs to contribute to domestic and global health security, with a focus on ports of entry, real-time biosurveillance, emergency response, and risk communications; lead, in conjunction with other relevant departments and agencies, United States Government measures to protect against global health threats at United States borders and ports of entry; provide regular biosurveillance updates and spot reports to federal, state, and local decision-makers to enhance awareness and early warning of emerging infectious diseases and acute biological events; provide assessments of the impacts of global health threats on homeland security operations.”

The FBI, meanwhile, will “facilitate, with other relevant departments and agencies, efforts to identify and investigate potential covert biological threats; establish protocols for joint investigations and information sharing among public health and law enforcement, including relevant threat information, domestic disease reporting, and health surveillance information; engage international partners in developing protocols in respective countries to better identify when an infectious disease outbreak may be the result of a deliberate or malicious act.”

The Defense Department will continue its biosurveillance, biosafety, and biosecurity programs and lend its “unique response capabilities” to emergencies. “The Department of Defense is pleased to be a part of the U.S. government’s strong commitment to global health security and the global health security agenda,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla Gleason.

CDC Director Robert Redfield stressed that his agency “has been a lead implementing partner of the Global Health Security Agenda since its launch in 2014 and will continue to play a key role.”

“CDC’s unique capacities include world-class subject matter experts in surveillance, laboratory science, workforce, and emergency management. It responds to disease threats when and where they occur, directly collaborating with other countries’ Ministries of Health and multilateral institutions – including the World Health Organization. This work helps to build sustainable local capacity, so that each country and region can respond to public health events as close to the source of a threat as possible,” Redfield said.

“One of my top priorities as CDC Director is to strengthen global health security through domestic and global preparedness to respond to public health events, and by identifying and closing gaps that dangerous diseases exploit. CDC is committed to working with our U.S. partners to support global health security.”

A CDC official told reporters that the agency is monitoring an average of 35 to 45 outbreaks a day around the world. “Global health security is national security,” the official said.

A senior administration official said that while the U.S. is “doing literally everything we possibly can to prioritize our efforts with the outbreak of Ebola” the security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where World Health Organization officials say violence is feeding the spread of Ebola, “is the responsibility of the Congolese government.”

“It is clear that this is not Ebola 2014 through 2016 in West Africa,” the official continued. “This is an epidemic in a region that is an unprecedented, unstable security environment — we are doing everything we can to address that, within the bounds of what is possible in that security environment.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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