Defense Department News

Obama: U.S. to Lead on Global Health Security Challenge

Sept. 26, 2014 | BY Cheryl Pellerin

With Ebola spreading in West Africa at an alarming rate, President Barack Obama today hosted top government and military officials along with experts in public health and proposed a series of steps aimed at protecting people from that and other infectious diseases.

Forty four nations are involved with The Global Health Security Agenda which, along with the World Health Organization, is bringing nations together to make concrete commitments to global health security.

Critical roles in global health security

Joining the president at a GHSA Summit today were cabinet members including Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“As Secretary of defense I especially want to recognize and thank senior defense and security officials from other countries who are here today because, as you know so well, you each have critical roles to play in supporting global health security,” Hagel said.

Scientific, economic and demographic trends are magnifying the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, the secretary said, whether the outbreaks begin with an accident, as an act of terrorism or in nature.

“Such events threaten not only the health of our citizens but also geopolitical stability,” Hagel said, adding, “When states are unable to provide basic services for their citizens, dangerous regional and global security consequences result.”

Prevent, detect and respond

Hagel added, “To prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks, we must work across all the sectors of all of our governments and across all of our nations in a concerted global effort,” including he said, responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases that threaten the stability of nations and regions.

Today, Obama said the United States has unique capabilities other nations don’t have in helping to prevent epidemics. “We can mobilize the world in ways that other nations may not be able to,” he told GHSA attendees at the White House.

“That’s what we’re trying to do on Ebola and that’s what we’ll do on the broader challenge of ensuring our global health security,” he said, adding, “We will do our part. We will lead. We will [contribute] resources. But we cannot do it alone.”

Obama said other nations are starting to answer the call for help made at the United Nations this week.

“Together, our countries have made over 100 commitments both to strengthen our own security and to work with each other to strengthen the security of all countries’ public health systems,” the president said.

Not caught flat-footed

To do more to prevent threats and outbreaks, the United States will partner with countries to help boost immunization rates to stop the spread of preventable diseases, and work together to improve biological security so nations can store, transport and work with dangerous pathogens safely.

In the United States, scientists are working with partners to find new ways to stop animal diseases from crossing over into people, which is how Ebola started.

“And with the executive order I signed last week,” Obama added, “we now have a national strategy to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to better protect our children and grandchildren from the reemergence of diseases and infections that the world conquered decades ago.

Do more to detect incidents and outbreaks

Second, he said, the United States will do more to detect incidents and outbreaks by helping hospitals and health workers find ways to share information more quickly as outbreaks occur.

“We want to help countries improve their monitoring systems so they can track progress in real time and we’ll intensify our efforts to diagnose diseases faster,” Obama said.

The United States must work with partners to make sure that technologies available now to diagnose many illnesses in minutes get to the market and get distributed as quickly as possible, he added.

Third, he said, the United States must do more to respond faster when incidents and outbreaks happen.

Emergency operations centers

“The United States will continue to help countries create their own emergency operations centers, with rapid-response teams ready to deploy at a moment’s notice,” Obama said.

“Just like our military conducts exercises to be ready, we’ll lead more training exercise as well, helping countries stress-test their system and personnel so that in the event of an outbreak or biological attack, they know how to find the source … mitigate the impact [and] … save lives.

Obama also announced a new effort to help health workers respond to diseases like Ebola.

“Today we’re issuing a challenge to inventors, entrepreneurs and businesses of the world to design better protective solutions for our health workers. If you design them, we will make them, we will pay for them, and our goal is to get them into the field in a matter of months to help the people working in West Africa right now. I’m confident we can do this,” the president said.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)