Skip to main content

Why global health security is a national priority

By John Kerry, Kathleen Sebelius, and Lisa Monaco
updated 5:56 PM EST, Wed February 12, 2014
Whether in Taiwan or the United States, the spread of infectious diseases such as SARS is a global health threat.
Whether in Taiwan or the United States, the spread of infectious diseases such as SARS is a global health threat.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Infectious diseases are security challenges, say John Kerry and Kathleen Sebelius
  • SARS, anthrax, H1N1 and other diseases threaten humanity on a global scale, they note
  • On Thursday, 26 countries convene to accelerate progress on global health security threats

Editor's note: John Kerry is secretary of state. Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of Health and Human Services. Lisa Monaco is assistant to the President for homeland security and counterterrorism.

(CNN) -- Eleven years ago this week, the world faced the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, a new epidemic that infected some 8,000 people, took the lives of 775 individuals, and inflicted $30 billion in damage to regional economies.

The emergence of SARS was a wake-up call for the World Health Organization and its members, including the United States. The world had to do more to prevent, detect and respond to new biological threats.

This is not just a health challenge; it's a security challenge as well.

Infectious diseases -- whether naturally occurring, deliberate or accidental -- have the potential to cause enormous damage in terms of lives lost, economic impact and ability to recover, just as with nuclear, chemical, or cybersecurity attacks.

John Kerry
John Kerry

During the anthrax attacks of 2001, 22 people were infected and five people lost their lives here in in the United States. The cleanup cost was more than $1 billion. The global H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 killed 284,000 people worldwide in its first year alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the decade since the SARS outbreak, we have made notable progress. China, for instance, has shown leadership in its transparent approach to the ongoing and rapidly escalating H7N9 influenza outbreak.

Under revised WHO regulations, many countries have increased capability and made event reporting more transparent.

But 80% of the world's nations still are not prepared to deal with new pandemics, and more can and must be done across the health, agriculture and security sectors to elevate this issue and steer resources toward it.

The United States has made addressing infectious disease threats a priority. On Thursday in Washington and Geneva, we are convening 26 countries to launch a Global Health Security Agenda that will accelerate progress on addressing a wide range of global health security threats.

Gupta: Disease takes years to develop
Flu update
MERS virus linked to Middle East

With our partners and allies, we'll be intensifying our efforts to meet the challenges of an increasingly globalized world, whether that means the emergence and spread of new microbes, the globalization of travel and food supply, the rise of drug-resistant pathogens, or the risk of an inadvertent or intentional release.

At the same time, we'll continue to work to prevent terrorists from developing, acquiring or using biological agents for harm.

New diseases are inevitable, but in the 21st century we have the tools to greatly reduce the threat posed by global epidemics. We can put in place a safe, secure, globally linked, inter-operable system to prevent disease threats, detect outbreaks in real time, and share information and expertise to respond effectively.

To achieve this goal, we must work more effectively across sectors and governments, harmonize our efforts, identify what works and measure our progress.

We invite national leaders, international organizations and nongovernmental stakeholders from around the world to join us in this endeavor. Our security and the lives and livelihoods of our citizens depend on it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Kerry, Kathleen Sebelius and Lisa Monaco.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT