U.S. voices strong support for health security in Geneva while curtailing support in Washington

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Infectious Diseases Society of America Senior Global Health Policy Specialist Rabita Aziz sent this dispatch from the 71st World Health Assembly in Geneva, where she will deliver remarks on behalf of IDSA (which produces this blog) and other organizations, this week.

GENEVA – The U.S. will contribute an additional $7 million on top of a previous $1 million contribution for efforts to respond to the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced here Tuesday. The U.S. contribution is the largest from a single donor, second to Germany’s contribution of $5.9 million.

The World Health Organization originally estimated that controlling the current outbreak would require $26 million, but in the wake of the outbreak’s spread from the isolated rural village of Bikoro to the urban center of Wangata, projects that much more funding would be needed. So far, countries have donated $25.45 million.

As the head of the U.S. delegation to the World Health Assembly, Azar has championed U.S. support for strengthening global health security throughout the week, from comments given during the assembly, at side events hosted by civil society groups, and at an event hosted by the U.S. delegation on pandemic influenza preparedness 100 years after the Spanish flu pandemic.

The comments in Geneva stand in contrast with administration actions that have included repeated proposals to cut funding that supports global health response and capacity strengthening and have led to the disbanding of the global health security office at the National Security Council. The latter move led Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer, the highest ranking federal official leading global health security efforts to step down from his post at the council on May 8, the day the Democratic Republic of Congo the outbreak of the current Ebola epidemic, and the day the White House released a proposal to rescind $252 million from USAID Global Health Security Agenda funding, marked for continued efforts to strengthen surveillance, laboratory capacity, health workforce training, and other essential activities to prevent, detect and respond to emerging infectious diseases. The proposal to rescind the funding, in turn, leaves whether the $8 million the U.S. has pledged for the current outbreak through USAID is new money, or already allocated funds from Ebola supplemental funding.

Other members of the U.S. delegation have also voiced strong support for global health security, including Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir, who asserted during an event hosted by civil society, “The U.S. stands to partner with you in building up capacity to respond to global health threats.”

“Global health security efforts cannot be episodic,” Giroir also said at the event hosted by PATH, Resolve to Save Lives, and the World Bank. “There must be a commitment to prioritize global health security over many years.”

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