From plague columns to Global Health Security

By Dr. Karen Sliter, Regional Manager for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services’ International Services, and U.S. Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium

One needs look no further than the plague columns scattered throughout European city squares to realize the impact infectious disease has had on the trajectory of human history.  Prior to the discovery of the first antibiotics in the late 1920’s, there was no effective treatment for infections.  Penicillin became the “wonder drug” of World War II, saving countless lives on the battlefield and even more in the postwar years.  Thus began the “ultimate race” of humans against microbes.  Nearly 100 years later, it is clear that this race will never end.  Not only are organisms developing resistance to current drugs more quickly than new drugs can be developed, but new diseases continue to emerge and spread as a result of increased interactions between people, animals and the environment.  Because diseases do not respect national boundaries; a risk to any of us is a risk to everyone.


The U.S. Mission to the European Union (USEU) is working with a number of European partners as well as other countries to protect the global community against infectious diseases.  On November 4, 2016, President Obama signed an Executive Order which cemented the advances made on combating global infectious disease under the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA).   As a global priority, this committed the U.S. as a long-term catalyst to help other countries build their capacities thus helping make the world safer and more secure from infectious disease threats.  Since the GHSA was launched in February 2014, it has grown into partnership of more than 50 countries, international organizations and non-governmental stakeholders.

Click here to read President Obama’s Executive order – Advancing the Global Health Security Agenda to Achieve a World Safe and Secure from Infectious Disease Threats

A key component of GHSA is external country assessments. Early on in the GHSA effort, Finland volunteered to lead the development of a tool and process which could be used by governments as well as their internal and external partners. The goal for the tool was to accurately assess a country’s current capacities and identify the key priority actions which would have the greatest impact on improving its ability to deal with infectious disease and other threats to human health.  These evaluations were designed to be completely voluntary, using a peer to peer, collaborative approach.  Because diseases can pass between humans and animals, as has happened with bird flu and Ebola, the external evaluations involve not only medical doctors but also veterinarians, wildlife experts, and other sectors such as security.  The success of this effort led the World Health Organization (WHO) to adopt and expand the GHSA tool and process in early 2016.  To date, more than 20 Joint External Evaluations (JEEs) have been conducted; and over 40 additional countries have expressed interest.  The JEEs have broad international support; not only from host countries but also from the World Bank and other donor organizations.

USEU has been involved since the beginning of the effort and I, as a veterinarian, am proud to have participated in the development and documentation of both the tool and the process as well as having led and co-led a number of JEE missions. USEU is proud to be part of this global effort to help create a world safe from the threat of infectious disease.


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