The time is now: How we can work together to address the Global Health Security Agenda

The time is now: How we can work together to address the Global Health Security Agenda
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First Ebola, now Zika. In a world where the next pandemic or global emergency is right around the corner, a timely response is everything. To respond to any global emergency, whether it be nature-wrought or vector-borne, preparedness, engagement of all stakeholders, and pre-coordination of all key resources is critical.

Nearly two years ago when the Ebola crisis was escalating in West Africa, governments, civil society, and the private sector came together to react to the outbreak. However, the global community arrived late, and not completely prepared or organized. Also, due to a lack of pre-coordination, private sector relationships with key players were unutilized, preventing a quick response from companies seeking to help.

Today, the Zika virus is a pressing reminder that we must have processes in place to both ensure effective response to outbreaks and to prevent the breakdown of systems that we saw with Ebola. For Zika, this means figuring out how to protect individuals in their own homes from infected mosquitos. As was true for Ebola, the private sector has a unique role to play in enabling a fast response to this outbreak-for instance, by identifying better vector-control mechanisms like mosquito netting, larvaecide dispensers, or health awareness campaigns.

Ebola and Zika are two specific examples that have shed light on the private sector's role in responding to outbreaks. Now private sector engagement in global pandemics and emergency preparedness and response is about to change with a cutting-edge, cross-sector endeavor called the Global Health Security Agenda Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT).

Alongside the events of this year's World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, we gathered GHSA countries and interested parties to formally introduce the PSRT, announcing both our priorities and our diverse group of members. Led by Johnson & Johnson and the GE Foundation, the mission of the PSRT is to mobilize industry to help countries prepare for and respond to health-related crises, and strengthen systems for health security. Over the past year, I've worked closely with Johnson & Johnson's Dr. Alan Tennenberg to engage and connect with stakeholders from every sector to participate in this collaborative effort.

So, what does the PSRT bring to the table for the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA)? From a health systems perspective, the private sector can leverage the framework of the PSRT to bolster and strengthen three main components of health systems: 1) equipment and technology, 2) sufficient numbers of adequately trained people, and 3) strong systems to hold the elements together and advance care delivery.

The members of the PSRT are working collaboratively to help reach the goals of the GHSA's 11 Action Packages. We are engaging key players from government and many companies from health care, communications, energy, finance, technology, transportation, logistics, and other sectors to support specific countries on their journey to achieving these targets.

We also aim to be the clearinghouse for industry to respond to public health, natural, or humanitarian emergencies in collaboration with governments and multilateral stakeholders. By preparing with our partner companies in advance, we can more easily and quickly deploy products and services in a crisis. As we saw with the Ebola epidemic, rapid deployment of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was essential to treating patients and stemming the tide of the disease. By pre-committing or pre-positioning assets that the private sector can deploy, like PPE, civil society and government will know, in advance, the equipment, services, and people from the private sector upon whom they can rely during a rapidly unfolding emergency.

Recently the PSRT brought together stakeholders from every corner of the globe and every sector, each with a unique role to play in this collaborative effort. We heard from my colleague Dr. Tennenberg, who discussed our recent Boston-based Zika Innovation Hack-a-thon, a true testament to the power of collaboration and innovative ideas. At the roundtable, we also heard from leaders like Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a strong advocate and supporter of the PSRT work, Dr. Mukesh Chawla of the World Bank, which has created new, innovative financing mechanisms for crisis, and Diah S. Saminarsih, Special Advisor to Minister of Health on Partnerships and Sustainable Development Goals, which is currently leading the GHSA. I was humbled and proud to see the engagement, enthusiasm and resolve with which this group of cross-sector actors has approached the guiding principles outlined by the GHSA and now supported by the PSRT.

The progress to-date has been terrific, but we need more engagement. We are a newborn group of almost 20 passionate companies, but Alan and I envision this being a cast of hundreds of local companies and global brands, engaged in work to ensure that we collectively and more powerfully help address the objectives of the GHSA. To be truly successful, we will need many more of our global private sector partners to join us.

Further, multi-sector collaboratives thrive off the ideas and aspirations of those we serve. We encourage global citizens to join our efforts by first learning more about the GHSA's 11 Action Packages. Then, citizens can consider petitioning local companies, asking them to lend their voices to the global discourse on disaster preparedness. Partnerships with community members on the ground are just as valuable as those with public sector leaders in our efforts to create emergency response action plans that have everyone's best interest at heart.

Whether you're a private sector leader or a member of the global community, the time to act is now. If we work together on this, we will be better positioned and prepared to respond to emergencies and outbreaks in the future.

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