Committing to a Global Health Agenda
By Ashley Tseng
Today there is an array of biosecurity threats both known and unknown. With technological advances such as the de novo synthesis of horsepox virus in a laboratory by a Canadian scientist , it has become imperative that biosecurity professionals be well-trained and well-equipped to recognize these risks. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa made the international community realize that not only were they vastly underprepared to respond to such an outbreak, but there were gaps in their national prevention and detection practices as well .
To augment the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005—a legal instrument recognized by the World Health Organization—the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) was launched in 2014 to provide a framework to pursue nine related objectives for detecting, preventing, and responding to future infectious disease outbreaks and improving preparedness. The GHSA has a biosafety and biosecurity objective to promote best practices at a national level. To assess a country’s GHSA-related objectives, partnerships are formed where one country performs a joint external evaluation (JEE) of another country’s capacities . However, to effectively implement the GHSA, it is important to first recognize that there are clear biosecurity gaps in both the GHSA and JEE.
Although there is an abundance of global health security resources available, there is no straightforward roadmap to follow and no central resource centre [MM1] for individuals to access. Part of the goal of the GHSA is to coordinate among public health, veterinary, and research sectors. To help address these gaps, my team and I submitted a proposal in late August to the Next Generation for Biosecurity in GHSA Competition co-hosted by Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Next Generation Global Health Security Network (GHSN). I acted as the proposal team lead and my other two team members, Lyazzat Musralina and Elshad Rzayev, are current professionals in the field of global health security, from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan respectively.
To increase utility and knowledge-sharing of existing, open-source resources, we proposed building a centralized hub that will allow for communication and easy access to the resources as part of a larger plan to achieve the biosecurity and biosafety objectives set by the GHSA. Our proposal has three facets: 1) to create a database of reliable, pre-existing laboratory biosecurity tools and research/training guides; 2) to create a glossary of biosecurity terms and acronyms in multiple languages to simplify international communication and collaboration; and 3) to create a laboratory biosecurity assessment tool to aid in awareness and education of potential biological risks posed by advancements in technology.
Using existing biosecurity best practices, standards, and policies, we proposed outlining related research and learning to inform national policy development, and creating a novel platform (as part of the database) for networking across sectors and regions to achieve GHSA and JEE biosecurity objectives. The goal is to create a model for next generation biosecurity professionals to engage with experts in the field through a question-and-answer forum, as well as a centrally located database of biosecurity resources and tools to help users meet the biosecurity targets outlined in the GHSA and JEE. The biosecurity forum and resources will be accessible globally, remotely, and available in multiple languages to build knowledge-sharing across sectors and cultures.
On October 26, 2017, my team and I presented our proposal at the 4th Annual GHSA Ministerial Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, where the Ministers and other high-level government officials of over 50 countries gathered to discuss the progress that has been made in global health security since 2014. This year’s GHSA meeting theme, “Health Security For All: Engaging Communities, Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Private Sector,” highlighted the overarching message that we were conveying in our proposal: not only do professionals need to be engaged in promoting global health security best practices, but communities (which includes incorporating the next generation of emerging global health leaders) need to be engaged as well. At the end of the three-day GHSA Ministerial Meeting, the Ministers were thrilled to announce that the member countries of the GHSA had all agreed to commit five more years to the Agenda, devoted to helping more countries reach their global health security goals by 2024.
Ashley Tseng is a fourth year undergraduate student at McGill University in Canada, majoring in Physical (Health) Geography and minoring in Economics. She is interested in gaining expertise and advanced knowledge in the Global Public Health sector of the professional world, primarily focused on Health Security, seeking to make communities more resilient to epidemics and disasters. Ashley hopes to pursue graduate studies in the field of Epidemiology, specifically researching infectious diseases and environmental health.
1. Koblentz, G. D. (2017). The De Novo Synthesis of Horsepox Virus: Implications for Biosecurity and Recommendations for Preventing the Reemergence of Smallpox. Health security.
2. The White House. FACT SHEET: The Global Health Security Agenda. The White House Office of the Press Secretary; 2015. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/07/28/fact-sheet-global-health-security-agenda (Accessed 1 November 2017).
3. JEE Alliance. Available online: https://www.jeealliance.org/global-health-security-and-ihr-implementation/ (Accessed 1 November 2017).