A global world as an interconnected world is… an often challenging world. Certainly one of the greatest challenges is in the area of public health since there are many opportunities for diseases to rapidly, and unpredictably, circle the globe. “There are new risks, resistant organism, and there is the possibility of intentionally created organisms and with our globalized world a threat anywhere is a threat everywhere,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, Frieden said, a disease appearing even in the remotest area on Earth can spread anywhere “within a day.”

In light of this threat, today the U.S. and 30 partner nations are launching the Global Health Security Agenda. The purpose of this international effort, co-hosted with the World Health Organization (WHO), is to accelerate progress toward reducing the threat of infectious disease. That goal, though, is apparently far from reach. Only 16 percent of all countries reported full compliance with the core competencies of the International Health Regulations (IHR) by the 2012 deadline. Established in the wake of the SARS outbreak in 2002, the IHR is a standard of preparedness for both emerging disease threats and bioterrorist events. It is intended to improve the capacity of all countries to detect, assess, notify, and respond to public health threats — a framework to help countries coordinate the management of procedures in the event of a public health emergency of international magnitude.

Countries had until June 15, 2012, a deadline set by WHO, to meet core surveillance and response requirements. Instead, an overwhelming majority requested a two-year extension to the deadline. Last year, the G20 requested international compliance and this action also brought little result. Finally, today there is the Global Health Security Agenda. “The bottom line here is we have the ability to make both our country and the world substantially safer from infectious threats,” Frieden stated during a conference call.

But does the rest of the world want to step up to the plate?  According to the agenda, health security threats, both on a national and international level, may arise from at least five sources:

  • the emergence and spread of new microbes
  • the globalization of travel and food supply
  • the rise of drug-resistant pathogens
  • the acceleration of biological science capabilities and the risk that they may accidentally or intentionally release pathogens
  • the acquisition, development, and use of biological agents by terrorists

One vulnerability is that some countries have limited disease surveillance systems; another is reluctance to share outbreak information or biological samples internationally. Both impact the U.S. and, for this reason, $40 million has been committed to the effort to accelerate international security. A shot in the arm, so to speak. According to Frieden, the money will be spent on “low and middle income countries that we have identified and need and willingness to make rapid progress.” In middle income countries, the help needed is largely technical, Frieden said, whereas in lower income countries, the money is needed to establish labs and communication networks.

No one questions the dream of global health security, but can it truly become a reality? Probably not yet it is clearly necessary to at least attempt to bring all nations up to speed. At the very least, the interaction will bring about a better understanding of each other's capabilities, make the task of reaching out easier in the event of an international emergency. After all, in the words of Laura Holgate, senior director for Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Threat Reduction, National Security Council, “Outbreak anywhere in the world is only a plane ride away."