Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, United States.
The world has developed an elaborate global health system as a bulwark against known and unknown infectious disease threats. The system consists of various formal and informal networks of organizations that serve different stakeholders; have varying goals, modalities, resources, and accountability; operate at different regional levels (i.e., local, national, regional, or global); and cut across the public, private-for-profit, and private-not-for-profit sectors. The evolving global health system has done much to protect and promote human health. However, the world continues to be confronted by longstanding, emerging, and reemerging infectious disease threats. These threats differ widely in terms of severity and probability. They also have varying consequences for morbidity and mortality, as well as for a complex set of social and economic outcomes. To various degrees, they are also amenable to alternative responses, ranging from clean water provision to regulation to biomedical countermeasures. Whether the global health system as currently constituted can provide effective protection against a dynamic array of infectious disease threats has been called into question by recent outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, dengue, Middle East respiratory syndrome, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and influenza and by the looming threat of rising antimicrobial resistance. The concern is magnified by rapid population growth in areas with weak health systems, urbanization, globalization, climate change, civil conflict, and the changing nature of pathogen transmission between human and animal populations. There is also potential for human-originated outbreaks emanating from laboratory accidents or intentional biological attacks. This paper discusses these issues, along with the need for a (possibly self-standing) multi-disciplinary Global Technical Council on Infectious Disease Threats to address emerging global challenges with regard to infectious disease and associated social and economic risks. This Council would strengthen the global health system by improving collaboration and coordination across organizations (e.g., the WHO, Gavi, CEPI, national centers for disease control, pharmaceutical manufacturers, etc.); filling in knowledge gaps with respect to (for example) infectious disease surveillance, research and development needs, financing models, supply chain logistics, and the social and economic impacts of potential threats; and making high-level, evidence-based recommendations for managing global risks associated with infectious disease.
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