Controlling disease outbreaks that threaten global public health is the goal of a new, 26-nation partnership launched in Washington. The United States is leading a group of countries and international organizations to help improve the world’s ability to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats.
When a lethal Ebola outbreak struck in 2012, Muslims in the Democratic Republic of Congo were barred from the Hajj pilgrimage.
In 2003, SARS leapt from China to more than two dozen countries with alarming speed.
Disease outbreaks anywhere are just a plane ride away in a globalized world, says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“Microbes and diseases are moving faster and farther than ever. And one thing we know for certain: they do not recognize or stop at national borders," said Sebelius.
And - she adds - most countries are woefully underprepared for an outbreak.
So the United States has convened a group of low, middle and high-income countries in a joint effort to plug some of the gaps.
“Working together across at least 30 countries, we can protect at least 4 billion global citizens within the next 5 years," said Sebelius.
The effort aims to build on U.S. pilot programs in Vietnam and Uganda that helped improve disease testing and response to outbreaks.
And while the purpose is to contain global threats, it should help countries fight diseases locally, says public health expert Amesh Adalja with the Infectious Diseases Society of America - speaking via Skype.
“A lot of the same technologies and techniques that you use in order to respond to, for example, an unknown disease are going to enhance your ability to respond to regular diseases. For example, developing laboratory testing capacity, developing means to get vaccines or countermeasures to populations," said Adalja.
The Obama administration plans to commit $45 million in the next year to improve prevention, detection and response to infectious disease threats in developing countries.
And it is calling on other nations to contribute to preventing the next global pandemic.