Diseases know no borders. When disease outbreaks occur, they devastate communities and have the potential to kill thousands, if not millions, of people. Beyond the health and safety costs, however, outbreaks also disrupt trade and set back national economies. These secondary impacts, while less well understood, can multiply the damage caused by outbreaks here and abroad.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is charged with protecting the health, safety and security of Americans. To do this job effectively, CDC works in the United States and overseas to stop outbreaks where they occur. Doing so saves lives and protects the lifeblood of the economy, which also saves American jobs.
Two analyses published recently in Health Security by CDC illustrate the potential losses to America’s export economy from an overseas disease outbreak. These analyses show that the ability to rapidly detect and control disease threats in other countries is critical to the U.S. economy and jobs.
CDC’s analyses demonstrate that the number of U.S. jobs at risk rapidly goes up as an outbreak spreads from a single country to multiple countries. Depending on the disease outbreak scenario explored, the number of U.S. jobs at risk jumps from about 1,400 to more than 1.3 million. Critically, these jobs are at risk even if no person in the United States falls ill in the outbreak.
The U.S. answer to this risk is the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a modern partnership building and strengthening capacity to thwart disease threats where they start. GHSA leverages a multisectoral approach with government and private sector engagement, new technology and expertise to elevate health security as a component of our national security.
President Trump’s budget request of $59 million in GHSA funding for fiscal 2019 demonstrates the administration’s commitment to global health security. This new funding also provides an important bridge to the extension of the GHSA announced by the administration in October 2017 in Uganda. The second phase of GHSA 2.0 will begin in 2020 and build our country’s protection capacity into the next decade.
GHSA funding enables CDC to partner with countries to stop infectious disease outbreaks where they occur. CDC is thus able to use its expertise and technology to support countries in preventing known infectious diseases and to recognize and control rare, highly dangerous and newly emerging threats.
The tragic 2014-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic exposed crucial gaps in the global emergency response network. In addition to the devastating loss of lives and degradation of human health, disease outbreaks such as this ignite fear and uncertainty, which stress infrastructures and halt international trade.
The World Bank estimated that the overall economic impact of the Ebola crisis in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was approximately $2.8 billion. This cost far exceeded the investments that could have prevented the uncontrolled expansion of the Ebola epidemic in the first place.
Experience indicates Ebola was not a singular isolated incident, but rather one of a consistent pattern of emerging disease outbreaks that cost dearly in lives and economic loss, such as SARS, influenza pandemics and Zika.
To reduce health security risks around the world, CDC and its partners are building capabilities to prevent, detect and contain disease outbreaks through GHSA. CDC works to advance global health security in 49 countries where there is risk for disease outbreaks, and these countries collectively represent $300 billion in U.S. exports and support 1.6 million American jobs across 50 states.
Many challenges presently exist that increase the risk of outbreaks and impede preventing and containing the spread of infectious diseases. Infectious pathogens “spill over” from animals to humans, microbes become resistant to drug treatments, people travel the globe and bioterrorism is an ongoing national security threat.
Consider, the global transportation network allows an infectious pathogen from a remote village to be carried to major cities across six continents within 36 hours. It’s not hard to imagine how stressed health systems with weak public health infrastructures can become overwhelmed, resulting in unnecessary suffering in the countries where the outbreaks occur, and rapid spread to other countries throughout the world.
CDC strives to protect Americans by finding and ending outbreaks at their source. Perhaps more importantly, CDC is able to help countries build the capacity to identify and stop these diseases on their own. We must take advantage of the bridge funding provided in the administration’s budget to ensure the men and women of CDC are able to hunt disease threats across the globe, to save lives and to protect American jobs by ensuring strong economies.
• Rebecca Martin is director of the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Gary Cohen, is executive vice president, global health, of Becton Dickinson and Co. (BD).