White House Hosts Meeting on Global Health Security

Yesterday, U.S. Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan hosted a roundtable discussion with World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan and senior officials from across the U.S. Government. This was a first of its kind meeting, with high-level leadership from the National Security Staff, U.S. Federal government agencies and departments, and the WHO to discuss common areas of interest in the area of global health security. Attendees included a wide range of stakeholders from across the U.S. Government, including those representing the fields of health, defense, law enforcement, international development, foreign affairs, security, animal and agriculture health, and science. 

Participants discussed the steps needed to advance key elements of a U.S. Government - WHO memorandum of understanding on global health security, signed last year on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. The discussion included topics such as the implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR) — a key framework for WHO Member States in the detection, reporting, and response of public health emergencies of international concern. At the 2011 United Nations General Assembly, President Obama signaled the importance of IHR in meeting the challenge of fighting all biological dangers, noting: “Today, I urge all nations to join us in meeting the WHO’s goal of making sure all nations have core capacities to address public health emergencies in place by 2012. That is what our commitment to the health of our people demands.” 

Yesterday’s White House meeting reflects our deepening commitment to build relationships across sectors and with other nations in recognition that the response to health threats must be global.  International cooperation is essential to ensure that nations are able to identify public health threats early and can respond in a coordinated and effective fashion. In today’s highly interconnected and interdependent global community, people and goods rapidly travel between distant points on the globe, amplifying the risk of a local incident rapidly becoming an international one. The WHO has a unique and irreplaceable role to play as the United Nations’ lead health authority and as a neutral and respected global convener and arbiter with rich technical expertise in public health.

The Obama Administration sees yesterday’s meeting as an important step towards protecting the health of the American people as well as people around the world against potential public health emergencies. We look forward to continuing our work in the area of global health security and are committed to supporting the WHO and partner nations in building the required core health capacities that enable effective detection and response to these emergencies.

Laura Holgate is Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, and Threat Reduction, National Security Council
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