When senior leaders from more than 30 countries and 4 international organizations converge on Helsinki on May 5th for two days of intensive discussion, the over-arching topic will be one that is closely associated with Finland’s capital city – security.
But this time, unlike 1975 when Helsinki hosted the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or 1990 when President George Bush met President Mikhail Gorbachev met in the same city for a path-breaking U.S. – Soviet summit, the leaders arriving in Helsinki will be working on a new aspect of security, one that will better protect the world from infectious disease threats.
The Helsinki meeting is the next major step in a historic partnership unveiled Feb. 13 in Washington, D.C., called the Global Health Security (GHS) Agenda. This effort is aimed at improving our ability worldwide to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks at a time when diseases of all types can travel greater distances in less time than ever before and potentially threaten a larger number of people no matter where they live.
With the need for a global response identified and nations committed, the meeting in Helsinki is designed to focus the effort and begin setting standards that ultimately will yield stronger protection for public health around the globe.
It is a complex undertaking, one that the world’s leading public health officials, including CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden and World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan, agree must be met.
That’s why Frieden, Mr. Andrew C. Weber, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, and Ms. Laura Holgate, Senior Director, Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism & Threat Reduction at the National Security Council will be active participants in Helsinki. It’s also the reason that the United States is committing over the next five years to working with at least 30 partner countries (totaling at least 4 billion people) to prevent, detect and effectively respond to infectious disease threats, whether naturally-occurring or caused by accidental or intentional releases of dangerous pathogens. We are encouraging other countries to join in this effort to realize the vision of a world where all 7 billion people are effectively protected against infectious disease threats.
The GHS Agenda Commitment Development meeting held on May 5-6 in Helsinki will help reach that goal by bringing together leaders from many countries, global partner organizations, and the multiple sectors needed to make progress of the GHS Agenda. Discussions at the meeting will focus on making commitments to accelerate global health security that are measureable, substantive and support the WHO International Health Regulations.
This year, CDC is combining resources and expertise with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to build on the success of last year’s GHS demonstration projects in Uganda and Vietnam by expanding the list of countries for GHS implementation in Ethiopia, Georgia, India, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, and Thailand.
To advance GHS in these countries, our focus for fiscal year 2014 is to develop and implement initial, demonstration project-like activities including strengthening laboratory and surveillance systems and developing emergency operations centers. CDC field staff and programs across the agency, in collaboration with host nation Ministries, other U.S. Government departments, and other GHS stakeholders will develop and implement initial GHS activities; develop country-specific 5-year GHS Strategic Plans; and develop an implementation plan for Fiscal Year 2015.
From March 17-20, 2014, CDC hosted its first GHS Conference. This event synergized staff from 18 CDC field offices and from programs across the agency to plan the agency’s way forward for GHS planning and implementation. We are now shaping GHS implementation in countries including recommendations, engagement with country teams, and alignment of technical activities with the GHS Agenda objectives and measures.
And now, Frieden will be extending those efforts in Helsinki where he will moderate the first GHS Commitment Development Meeting. This meeting marks an important opportunity for other countries to commit to accelerating global health security in their country, region or globally.
It will take a concentrated global public health effort to protect people from infectious disease threats. Every country has a role to play in preventing, detecting, and responding to these threats.