Coronaviruses like these are among the targets of a new global health initiative.

Target. Coronaviruses like these are among the targets of a new global health initiative.

CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy; Sylvia Whitfield

Struggling Nations Would Get Help Under New Global Health Effort

Representatives from 26 countries are planning to hold a simultaneous meeting in Washington, D.C., and Geneva today to launch a Global Health Security Agenda that aims to better protect the world from infectious diseases.

Spearheaded by the United States and the World Health Organization (WHO), the new effort is an attempt to help lagging nations catch up on efforts to develop plans to address a “public health emergency of international concern.” In 2005, 194 countries adopted WHO’s revamped International Health Regulations, which required them to submit a report by June 2012 that detailed how they had bolstered efforts to evaluate and respond to outbreaks of dangerous pathogens like novel influenza strains, severe acute respiratory syndrome, dengue, Middle East respiratory syndrome, and Ebola. Just 40 of the countries, however, met the deadline.

As a result, the world faces “a real storm of vulnerability,” said Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, during a teleconference yesterday with reporters. “The bottom line here is that we have the ability to make both our country, the U.S., and the world substantially safer from infectious threats.”

Frieden and other officials outlined a nine-point agenda, at least in broad strokes. It includes a commitment by the United States and other governments to help low- and middle-income countries better detect, prevent, and respond to infectious disease by improving their laboratory capabilities, introducing new proven technologies, and strengthening communication networks about outbreaks. Frieden says U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for 2015, to be released in early March, will have $45 million in new money to support the effort. Other high-income countries have pledged to put cash on the barrelhead, too. 

Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, applauds the new agenda, which mirrors an idea she advocated in October. “It just makes sense,” Garrett says. “If countries can’t identify new diseases, then eventually those diseases could reach us.” But she’s concerned that the United States and other donor countries won’t pony up enough money. “To pull this off you need to be spending well over $100 million a year,” Garrett says. “It’s going to take 5 or 6 years of good, hard, diligent work to reach the target everyone knows we have to reach.”

Today’s meeting is closed to the media and off-the-record, but individual countries will be free to describe their contributions to the conversation.