“None of this works if you’ve got a hole in the net . . .”
Last year, an international partnership that includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, as well as donors and agencies from Canada and European countries, and health officials in countries around the world opened a program to train front line field epidemiologists in Liberia. Since then, according to data released at a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday, 300 Liberians have been trained to handle specimens headed for diagnostic laboratories safely and 97 disease surveillance officers across the country have been trained, almost all of them by now having participated in at least one response to an infectious disease outbreak, including the re-emergence of Ebola infections that surfaced there in March 2016.
The Global Health Security Agenda, the partnership launched in 2014 behind that effort and others in Liberia, as well as in 30 other countries, reported these and more examples of what they are calling early progress toward the long term goal of enabling all countries to detect, prevent and respond to local infectious disease threats before they become international emergencies.
If the progress is in its early stages, it also came late in the Ebola crisis, Liberian health official Dr. Tolbert Nyenswah noted at the briefing reviewing the impacts of the partnership that had just formed when the West Africa outbreak devastated his country.
“We lost forty-eight hundred human beings. Eleven thousand of our people got infected. The entire population was terrified; We saw people dying in the streets,” he said. The lesson reinforced by the outbreak, was the principal that had sparked the creation of the Global Health Security Agenda, he said, “For you to stop a global epidemic from happening, you must be at the source.”
The investment in global health security they had come to discuss, he said, was an investment in the health of Americans as well as an investment in the health of Liberians. At this briefing, which came little more than a month before a new Administration will begin to evaluate U.S. investments in global health, USAID leader Gayle Smith emphasized that while the early results are tangible, they also represent a foundation, rather than achievement of global health security.
“None of this works if you have a hole in the net,” she said. “This isn’t something you can do for a couple of years, and then it’s done. You have to keep at it.”
The Global Health Security Agenda: Progress and Impact from Early Investment and more reports from the partnership are available here.