Leveraging Synergies to Improve Epidemic Preparedness

Leveraging Synergies to Improve Epidemic Preparedness

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa proved that diseases do not recognize borders.

In today’s interconnected world, an epidemic threat in one country can spread quickly to others. In our struggle to recover from both the Ebola and Zika viruses, the importance of both health security and crosscutting measures to address epidemics is more evident than ever.

Over the past two years, the world has adopted two critical frameworks to improve global health - the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). A recent article I co-authored for the upcoming issue of the Journal of Public Health Policy (1) highlights the need to identify areas of convergence between the SDGs and the GHSA.

Implementing interventions to achieve both the SDGs and the GHSA will ensure that global health programs are cost-effective and collaborative, and will make us more resilient and prepared for epidemics. Aligning the implementation of the SDGs and the GHSA will also allow countries to address problems that amplify epidemics, like weak health systems, widespread poverty, and environmental destruction.

For example, investing in synergistic activities such as immunization and universal health coverage promotes health security by making countries resilient to epidemics, and also complements SDG efforts to improve health and reduce the inequality gap. Similarly, investing in GHSA action packages to build surveillance capacity, healthcare worker capacity, and laboratory systems not only strengthens health systems to achieve SDG 3 — which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all — but also builds countries’ preparedness to combat epidemics.

As countries look to implement SDGs and the GHSA, they need to look beyond programmatic silos and embrace a horizontal approach to improving health and epidemic resilience.

It is also essential that governments engage the private sector and civil society in these efforts. By educating private companies about epidemics’ potential impact on their bottom line, countries can mobilize the private sector and leverage companies’ core strengths to implement these global goals.

Public-private partnerships that improve the supply chain, for example, can reduce unequal access to vaccines and essential medicines, and can also stem the overuse of antibiotics — which are often used in place of other medicines when those medicines are unavailable. As a result, such efforts can help to combat antimicrobial resistance, which is one goal of the GHSA Action Packages.

For agendas like the SDGs and the GHSA to be fully effective globally, more countries must invest in preparedness and resilience. Private sector and civil society engagement in advocacy can play a crucial role in making this happen. Implementation of the two agendas in a synergistic manner will ensure a positive spillover effect that can help to achieve both of these crucial goals.

1. Bali.S. and Taffe.J. Exploring the synergies between the SDGS and Global Health Security Agenda for a sustainable and resilient world.