In the swirl of world events that range from economic uncertainty to continuing unease about terrorism, President Obama took an important step today to strengthen our ability to protect people in the United States and around the world from disease outbreaks.
Today, President Obama signed an executive order which cements the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) as a national, presidential-level priority and establishes the United States as a committed, long-term catalyst for achieving the promise and protections that GHSA holds.
This is good news. In today's increasingly interconnected world, distance no longer protects us from disease. The President's action ensures US leadership and supports strengthening the ability of all countries to detect outbreaks at the earliest possible moment, to respond to them quickly and decisively, and prevent outbreaks wherever possible.
The executive order also confirms the value of CDC's deep involvement in health security even before the formal GHSA launch in early 2014. I'm proud of CDC's work helping countries become better prepared to protect their own people and thereby also protecting the rest of the world, including the United States. In its first two years, our initial investment has yielded substantial, measurable results in dozens of countries from Guinea to Vietnam. In Cameroon, for example, an outbreak of avian influenza was rapidly recognized and stopped, with the emergency team in place within 48 hours, compared with a response to past emergencies that took 8 weeks or more to organize. In Uganda, outbreaks of cholera, meningitis, and Yellow Fever have been rapidly identified and stopped. And in Tanzania, GHSA enabled a more rapid and more effective response to cholera. Vital partnerships with those countries have greatly improved disease surveillance, laboratory science, emergency operations, and the capacity of the local doctors, nurses, and other public health specialists. These are all core competencies that every country needs to have, for their own sake and the sake of the world.
CDC experts and other partners have also worked closely with public health leaders to rigorously, independently, and transparently evaluate the public health systems. This effort, known as a Joint External Evaluation, is a critical "stress test" that provides, for the first time ever, a clear picture of each country's strengths and weaknesses - and highlights the changes and upgrades needed to meet GHSA's stringent standards for protecting people's health. Results of these evaluations, which will be done for more than 50 countries within the next few months, are openly available here.
Even the smallest gap allows disease to spread and grow. With the ease and speed of global travel and global commerce, the need to stop health threats where they emerge and before they spread is more important than ever.
GHSA now has firm commitments from 55 nations and has been joined by international and nongovernmental organizations as well as private sector stakeholders. It establishes ambitious goals with standards that demand accountability and which make the world safer. On-the-ground benefits include better laboratories that provide more reliable and consistent results, supported by a cadre of highly trained "disease detectives" who are the front line of the crucial early warning system to detect outbreaks and stop them before they spread widely. GHSA also calls for and has helped countries establish Emergency Operations Centers to detect and fight outbreaks, improving collaboration among responders, and providing the public with accurate and timely information.
The executive order signed today demonstrates the importance of GHSA to the United States and establishes mechanisms that ensure the effort remains in the line of sight of the President and senior advisors. "Promoting global health security," the executive order says, "is a core tenet of our national strategy for countering biological threats. No single nation can be prepared if other nations remain unprepared to counter biological threats."
All of us deserve to be healthy and safe and secure from disease outbreaks. Today's action by the President moves us closer to that goal.
Follow Tom Frieden, MD, MPH on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@DrFriedenCDC