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Small Changes, Big Dividends: A Global Look at Preparedness

Posted on by Dr. Stephen Redd, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response

Soumbedioune fish market in Dakar, Senegal

Dr. Stephen Redd, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response
Dr. Stephen Redd, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response

There’s a big difference between seeing something in a picture and experiencing it in 360-degree reality, saturated with sounds and smells. In the summer of 1987, I traveled to Senegal for three weeks. This was the first time I had really traveled and seen firsthand what the rest of the world was like.

In Dakar, fishermen brought their catches to beach on the edge of town. An open sewer drained directly into the ocean almost in the middle of where the fishermen landed their boats. In addition to the smells, that sewer pipe seemed guaranteed to make people sick. It also seemed that something simple, like moving the drain, could prevent illness. It might have been a naïve idea, but it struck me that there were many opportunities to make small changes that would improve people’s health.

Many of us came to public health because, at some point in our life, we had a similar realization. As a clinician, treating one patient at a time undoubtedly helps people and is rewarding, but working to protect and benefit the community as a whole can provide larger-scale benefits.

Preparedness at the forefront

This is why I’m passionate about being prepared. When an emergency hits, having trained people who know what to do, and having the resources in place to allow them to do their jobs, saves lives. And – as we have seen all too clearly – a lack of preparedness can turn an outbreak into an epidemic, or a natural disaster into a crucible for infectious disease.

Planning ahead and being ready are the most critical things we can do to keep people safe. The world recognizes this, which is why countries have signed international agreements like the International Health Regulations and the Global Health Security Agenda that commit them to being prepared for a public health emergency. We have a long way to go, but we have a clear roadmap for what needs to be done.

And, here in the U.S., we are doing our part to fulfill our obligation to the global community. Recently, we invited a team of international experts to evaluate the ability of the U.S. to prevent, detect, and respond to public health threats. Looking at 19 different areas, they gave us feedback on where we are succeeding, and where we can do better. We will use the results of their report as we continue to build on our expertise.

Knowledge benefits everyone

The benefits of improving our expertise are twofold: not only do we protect ourselves, but we gain knowledge that we can share across the globe as other countries build their capabilities to respond to health threats. We are doing this every day.

CDC’s efforts in developing our Emergency Operations Center provide a great example. What we’ve learned is that the most important investment a country can make is having highly trained people at the ready. When people know what to do, a conference room and a few computers is all it takes to coordinate a response that can mitigate disaster and save lives.

CDC is able to share this kind of information with partners in countries around the world who may not have the resources to do everything at once. From working with Kenya on how to regulate the labs that handle the world’s deadliest germs and poisons, to working with Cameroon and Ethiopia on how to manage an emergency stockpile of medicines, we are helping others learn from our experience, and also learning from them as we go.

We are all connected

Our connection to other countries is more important than ever. As we help build capacity across the globe, we also protect our health here at home. We have to think globally as we build the knowledge we need to prepare for, and respond to, emergencies.

We must keep in mind that, somewhere in the world, there is a draining sewer that might be ground zero for an outbreak. And, somewhere, there is a conference room we could fill with trained responders to help stop it.

Read our other National Preparedness Month blogs:

Posted on by Dr. Stephen Redd, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and ResponseTags , , , ,

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