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Global Health Security Agenda White House Meeting

Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Global Health Security Agenda White House Meeting
September 26, 2014
Washington, D.C.


Thank you, Ambassador Rice, and welcome to all of our distinguished guests. We are honored to be your hosts and your partners.

We all recognize that diseases know no borders. That was true during outbreaks of SARS and H5N1, and we can see it now as Ebola devastates communities in West Africa.

Meanwhile, the global rise of Antimicrobial Resistance turns routine infections into deadly threats and tests our ability to fight the most common afflictions.

When it comes to protecting the health of our people, it is obvious that no country can do it alone.

Our vision is a world free from the threat of infectious diseases. The question is: How do we get there?

To deal with an outbreak—whether naturally-occurring, accidental, or as a result of bioterrorism—the crucial first step is surveillance and detection by a health system. The key components are not mysterious:

  • First, laboratory capacity. Every country needs labs that are capable of quick, accurate, and safe diagnostic testing.
  • Second, a strong surveillance system to detect where and how health threats are emerging.
  • Third, accessible emergency operations centers to respond quickly to suspected infection cases and activate emergency protocols.
  • And fourth, the foundation for all of these elements: well-trained workforces to staff facilities, execute strategy, and implement a robust response.

The problems that arise when these elements are not in place have never been clearer than in our current fight against the Ebola outbreak. The huge death toll and disruption to economic, trade, transport and security arrangements could have been prevented.

Never has it been clearer that the world’s health security depends on paying attention to its weakest links. By strengthening the basic elements of public health in countries that need them most, our global community can deal with potential widespread threats without them becoming health – or security – crises.

That is the cornerstone of the Global Health Security Agenda.

The Department of Health and Human Services was proud to host our February launch, where the U.S. committed to investing in the health capacities of 30 countries.

Uganda, for instance, has a terrific success story. With CDC help, they were able to strengthen those four health system pillars, and, as a result, they have been able to effectively respond to an Ebola outbreak with only one death – the initial patient – and to stop a meningitis outbreak in the early stages as well.

And by focusing on improving health infrastructures, nations around the world are making important progress.

China made preventing, detecting and responding to emerging infectious diseases a whole-of-government national priority. As a result, when H7N9 influenza emerged, China was able to take swift, decisive action to contain its immediate spread and prepare for the possibility of future recurrences.

I am pleased that we are joined today by my colleagues Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry, as well as Ministers and representatives from the agriculture and diplomatic fields. Our mission to contain and eliminate infectious diseases needs a “one-health” and a “whole-of-government commitment.”

We understand that we may not be able to eliminate them all. We can, however, do much more with prevention, early detection, and effective response.

Our vision is possible. We have successfully eradicated both Smallpox and Rinderpest, so we know that when we work together, we can do big things. But our successes raise the question: why haven't we done more?

Today is about doing more. Let’s make global health security a priority investment for all of our nations. That’s how we will deliver the kind of impact we need. That’s how we will realize the vision of “a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats.”

And now I have the pleasure of introducing my friend and colleague, United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on January 6, 2015