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White House Expert: Global Health Is National Security Issue

Elizabeth Cameron

Elizabeth Cameron, White House national security expert, says there's a challenge in leveraging resources and funding globally across disparate streams and interests to better detect and respond to disease threats.

April 10, 2014 – Global health security must be elevated to a high priority around the world to successfully combat pandemics such as avian flu, White House national security expert Elizabeth Cameron told a Georgetown audience yesterday. 

Cameron, director for countering biological threats with the National Security Council, served as keynote speaker for April 9 “New Avian Influenzas in East Asia: Global Health Security and Policy” symposium.

“The challenge we face as a global community is how to leverage resources and funding across disparate streams and interests to move toward similar goals and targets … so we can better detect and respond [to disease threats],” Cameron said.

Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and the Asian Studies Program at the School of Foreign Service co-hosted the event.

Galvanizing World Leaders

Cameron outlined the Obama administration’s new global health security agenda, launched this past February with representatives of more than 25 countries, the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Over the past decade or so, public health threats such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and an array of flu strains, including H5N1 and H1N1, have set local, regional and national governments scrambling to coordinate a response.

These threats exposed an acute need “to galvanize world leaders around an agenda,” Cameron said.

Expert Panelists

Following the keynote, a panel of experts examined avian flu through the lenses of science, history, biostatistics, security and social science.

Participants on the panel were Carol Benedict, professor of history at Georgetown College; Jennifer Huang Bouey, associate professor of international health at the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS); and Michael A. Stoto, professor of health systems administration at NHS.

Stoto, an expert on population health and public health assessment, talked about emergency preparedness and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. 

"To learn lessons that are enduring, we have to get beyond asking how quickly cases were detected or how many vaccines were delivered, getting at a deeper level to understand the root causes, the 'how' and 'why' that public health emergency occurred and the system performed as it did," Stoto said. 

John Monahan, senior advisor to the Georgetown President John J. DeGioia for global health and a senior fellow at the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy, says the symposium “goes to the heart of Georgetown's special place in global health at the intersection of world-class science and cutting-edge diplomacy.”

“We cannot address influenza pandemics in isolation,” he explained, “and we heard today from the White House and other experts how the global community can and should do more to prevent and protect communities in Asia and across the globe from emerging diseases.”  

Georgetown Synergy

 The Georgetown panelists were joined by Dr. Phillip Nieburg, a pediatrician and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Kanta Subbarao, chief of emerging respiratory viruses at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Daniel Lucey, of the GUMC microbiology and immunology department served as event organizer.

“[Georgetown should use its] synergy of strengths to contribute further to the improvement of global health, by way of our educational mission and by contributing directly to informing policy decisions nationally and internationally,” he said.

Victor Cha, director of Asian Studies and the D.S. Song Chair in the department of government, said the symposium is an opportunity for Georgetown to highlight the connection between global health and national security in the public eye. 

“We can also help to raise the policy profile of these issues in the mainstream, as most of the educated public does not look at pandemics on the other side of the world as a national security issue,” Cha said.

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