Why We Can’t Stop Now: U.S. Support for Critical Global Health Programs Is Crucial

Feb. 7, 2018

Launched in 2014 as a partnership of over 64 nations and NGOs, the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) helps build capacity to mitigate infectious disease threats and elevate global health security as a national and global priority.  Since its inception, the GHSA has established a proven record of success responding to infectious disease epidemics that have the potential to disrupt social, economic, and political security.  To date, the United States has provided at least $2.3 billion in support to the GHSA and its initiatives.

Despite these critical successes, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has signaled its intention to scale back support for GHSA at the end of the 2019 fiscal year.   

In January, ASM cosigned a letter to HHS outlining the potential effects of the HHS decision to scale back its support for GHSA at the end of the 2019 fiscal year.  By doing so, ASM joined its domestic and international GHSA partners in strongly urging the administration to reconsider its decision.

A History of US Support for GHSA

After the Ebola outbreak was brought under control in 2015, the United States bolstered its support for the GHSA by reallocating $1 billion of Ebola response funds to the initiative. The following year, as the Zika epidemic was brought under control, the US again reauthorized funds, this time for $145 million. These commitments pumped vital resources into the 64-member country initiative intended to strengthen global capacity to prevent, detect and respond to health threats.

How Has HHS Helped Prevent Specific Global Threats to Public Health?

2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed as many as 50 million people. Modern epidemics and pandemics, though catastrophic, pale in comparison to the 1918 catastrophe. The Ebola epidemic of 2014-2016 saw 28,616 diagnosed cases and 11,310 deaths, crippling West African nations, and costing Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone $2.2 billion in lost GDP in 2015 alone. As the global public health community scrambled to avert an outbreak of pandemic proportions, response efforts cost the world more than $3.6 billion in 2015.  Yet in the absence of a coordinated response to Ebola, the regional outbreak could have escalated to global proportions.  CDC’s health security personnel and resources were invaluable towards averting crisis during the 2017 responses to Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Marburg in Uganda. HHS and other national health systems are vital to mitigating the potential risk of microbial threats.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Global Programs

Is the Scale of the Anticipated Reduction in Support for GHSA?

Recent news reports suggest that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to scale back its support for GHSA from 49 to 10 priority countries by October 2019, when the current round of US funding for GHSA ends. Nearly $600 million was awarded to the CDC to support the GHSA and other related programs. Without renewed support beyond October 2019, the CDC will be left to provide GHSA with an annual budget of $50-$60 million. These anticipated changes will significantly weaken GHSA’s abilities to address disease threats at all levels—regional, national and global. Instead of helping step up efforts to reduce the impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on health and financial security, for example, reduced US support for the GHSA would place the world at increased risk for widespread public health crises such as an influenza pandemic.

What Impact Could Proposed Funding Cuts Have on the United States?

US investments in global health security, including deployed CDC personnel, are making America safer today.  Global threats originating in other regions of the world, such as Ebola and Zika, impact the health and well-being of American citizens and residents of the US. Reverting to an isolationist strategy in a world that is increasingly interconnected, both physically and virtually, would threaten the nation’s security and prosperity. The ramifications from such major cuts in our deployed biodefense capability—against both natural and manufactured threats—are clear. Not only will CDC be forced to narrow its countries of operation, but the US also stands to lose vital information about biological threats gathered on the ground through trusted partnerships, real-time surveillance and research.

What Is ASM Doing?

Since 2015, in support of the GHSA, ASM has provided technical support and leadership in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Georgia, India, Kenya, Tanzania, and Vietnam. These efforts, made possible by the thousands of ASM members around the world, have improved and created programs in:

  • National Antimicrobial Surveillance.
  • Laboratory network creation.
  • Biorisk management and infection control protocols.
  • Antimicrobial susceptibility testing.
  • Laboratory capacity building.
  • Laboratory Quality Management Systems.
  • Laboratory diagnostics and reporting.
  • Functional specimen referral and transport systems.
  • Efficient procurement of essential equipment and laboratory supplies.

ASM, like all of its fellow GHSAC counterparts, is committed to serving the needs of the scientific community and the individuals who work on the front lines of global health.

American Society for Microbiology Global Programs

ASM Biothreats Conference 

In addition to the vital in-country work that ASM conducts on a daily basis, the Society continues to advocate, educate, and brief policy makers to promote the well-being and safety of every person around the world.

What Can Concerned Citizens Do?

There will be critical points throughout the next budget cycle to communicate with your elected representatives about the importance of full funding for public health programs that help the nation protect the health of its people and its national security interests. Scientists, researchers, and  academics are in a unique position to help educate their Congressional representatives about the importance of GHSA and of US support generally for international health programs.  ASM will help you stay informed about the US government’s plans to reduce its support for GHSA and other global health initiatives. 

Author: ASM International Affairs

ASM International Affairs
ASM International Affairs staff.