While a surge in the new and deadly H7N9 avian influenza in China has grabbed the global health community’s attention, the U.S. government is ramping up its own efforts — and solidifying international and interagency partnerships — to combat the threat of these international pandemics.
The Obama administration is launching on Thursday its new Global Health Security Agenda, “a White House-led effort to consolidate U.S. government efforts across the health and security sectors” and help create “a unified global effort” to address threats posed by global infectious diseases.
“This is probably the most comprehensive effort in recent memory to address the problem of infectious disease threats and to bring different parts of the U.S. government and other governments together to try and address it,” Scott Dowell, director of Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response at the CDC Center for Global Health, told Devex.
Co-hosted by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan, the launch will bring together health and security ministers and ambassadors from 25 countries in Washington, D.C. and Geneva, and is the latest in a string of Obama administration initiatives designed to gather together U.S. agencies’ policy and funding “toolboxes” and commit them more strategically to tackling big global challenges like energy poverty and maternal and child health.
While the GHS agenda is not a U.S. foreign aid-specific initiative, but instead a global effort involving all countries that could be affected by infectious disease — which is all of them, according to the CDC official — it will build on U.S.-led aid efforts to strengthen the capacity of developing country ministries to achieve three broad objectives:
The strategy will include funding for new technical assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and its implementing NGOs and partners that will be similar to the agency’s past efforts in emerging pandemic threats programming, but now more directly in line with the principles of the new GHS agenda.
“The vision is that in addition to broad partnerships with different countries taking a leadership role and moving this forward that NGOs also can play an important part,” Dowell said.
A week ago, USAID issued “requests for information” detailing expected funding opportunities related to emerging pandemic threats.
One of these, called EPT-2, is expected to be worth up to $100 million over the next five years and will fund a “suite of highly integrated technical and operation assistance partnerships” to help developing countries comply with international standards and guidelines for pandemic prevention, detection and response.
EPT-2 will support the GHS agenda and build on USAID’s existing emerging pandemic threats portfolio, including a prior project (EPT-1) launched in 2009 but which grew out of USAID’s early efforts in 2005 to control the threat posed by H5N1, the highly pathogenic “bird flu” virus that killed about 60 percent of those infected.
“I would say that USAID’s emerging pandemic threats program is a really strong and useful program that’s shown a lot of success in the last few years and will be an important component of the overall global health security agenda,” said Dowell. “There are some others … but they’re too small in scope and scale, so this effort is really to expand and broaden that effort so that it addresses the threats in a more comprehensive way.”
EPT-2 calls for a “heightened focus” on priority countries — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam — where the new technical assistance efforts will place a greater emphasis on hotspots within countries and epidemiological zones “where the risks of spillover, amplification and spread” are greatest. However, listing priority countries and hotspots is far easier than accurately anticipating where pandemics will emerge.
“We were ready for the last influenza pandemic to come from Southeast Asia and it came from Mexico,” Dowell said.
The GHS agenda has so far been led by the White House, and that leadership role is expected to continue while individual agencies step in to implement their own areas of focus.
Devex has learned that U.S. President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget request will include $45 million for the CDC to implement GHS agenda-related programs, and the CDC and Department of Defense are jointly committing to work together in ten countries in 2014 and contribute $40 million to those efforts.
More specific pledges from international partners are sure to emerge at Thursday’s launch.
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