Infectious Diseases: A Forgotten Facet of Global Security

In the wake of the Ebola crisis, the Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future (GHRF) has published a compelling report on the international need to galvanize and rethink the global approach to infectious disease resiliency. “Compared with other high-profile threats to human and economic security – such as war, terrorism, nuclear disasters, and financial crises – we are underinvested and underprepared. The report, “The Neglected Dimension of Global Security: A Framework to Counter Infectious Disease Crises“, is straightforward: it is much easier, and significantly less expensive to create a more robust framework for reducing the occurrence and outbreak of infectious diseases, than to try and mitigate against a spreading pandemic. The report is not so much about breaking down the current global health structure, but focuses more on overhauling the current system to make it more functional, more dynamic, more accountable, and better prepared to deal with the rising threats to global health and security. 

The Ebola epidemic revealed many deficiencies in the international community’s ability to effectively respond. From the report’s perspective, the “international response was sluggish, ill-coordinated, and clumsy. […] But more lives were lost than should have been, and the economic costs were far greater than they could have been.” To that end, the GHRF makes three recommendations to start making our world safer from the catastrophic costs (both in terms of human life and economic) associated with the threat of pandemics. From the report: 

1.) Strengthening public health as the foundation of the health system and first line of defense and strengthening global coordination and capabilities.

2.) Committing and mobilizing the incremental financial resources required to implement the framework, […] which amounts to about $4.5 billion per year. 

3.) Monitoring progress of implementation by commissioning an independent assessment in 2017 and every 3 years thereafter.

Global health is a global public good – something that the entire international community should work towards securing, especially in fragile states. At the global level, the proposed $4.5 billion per year is a fraction of the cost that would be incurred from unchecked pandemics. The burden, however, lies in establishing the required infrastructure and necessary benchmarks for creating and maintaining such a global health system – essentially reversing the neglect of previous years. Yet, as Uganda has shown, this is not out of reach. “What is required is leadership. Governments much recognize that protecting against the threat of infectious disease is a fundamental part of their basic duty to protect their citizens.”

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