Global health crises require constructive involvement of our diplomats abroad and policymakers at home, as we have seen with the global HIV pandemic, as we saw with the Ebola epidemic last year, and as we are seeing now with the Zika virus epidemic in our own hemisphere. So it was very timely to have the opportunity to address this topic on a recent panel discussion in Washington D.C., “Securing HOPE”, sponsored by our young professionals’ leadership board, the NextGen of HOPE, and the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.
The panel included experts from the Department of State, USAID, the Department of Defense, and NGO sectors to provide a range of viewpoints on strengthening the response to epidemics and how to engage the next generation of leaders in global health security (GHS), an issue that is going to be increasingly important as their careers progress.
Of course, HIV, Ebola, and the Zika virus are very different from one another, but they have their own sinister way of creating a crisis, affecting society, and threatening security. Ebola kills rapidly and is scary. The Zika virus, so we think, strikes in a tragic way at reproductive health, which is at the very core of our existence. And the global HIV pandemic, which now spans 30 years and has claimed the lives of 40 million people, is a clear example of how unresolved global health challenges are going to be passed on to the next generation.
Partnerships are crucial to achieving progress in the fight against Ebola, HIV, and now the Zika virus, which threatens communities in the Americas and has been detected in the U.S. These and others (H7N9, MERS, Chikungunya, etc) are prime examples of how insecure we really are when it comes to containing disease outbreaks. The UN Security Council has even taken the unprecedented step to declare Ebola and HIV as threats to global security. The goal of GHS, through investment in public health systems strengthening, is to prevent outbreaks of disease from escalating into wider scale epidemics and pandemics and to better prevent, detect and respond. But to fulfill its potential, GHS needs a seamless partnership between government, the private sector, and where we come in — NGOs.
When outbreaks occur, which is often unavoidable, governments must provide funding, leadership, coordination, communications with the public, support for research and development, and carry out disease surveillance so we know the extent of the problem. We need the private sector to develop and distribute effective and affordable diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics. And the non-health sectors are critical in keeping transport, commerce, and communications systems up and running.
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