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 12:26 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT