The unfolding Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a poignant reminder that viruses and other threats to human health do not respect national borders. Public health professionals and diplomats from many nations, the WHO, and NGOs have joined forces to ensure that the health systems in Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone have the resources needed to contain and then eliminate the immediate threat. Last minute changes to delegations from nations directly affected by Ebola in the historic U.S.-African Leaders Summit: Investing in the Next Generation hosted by President Obama, reminds us that diplomatic engagement is likewise not immune to threats to human health.
On August 4 at the Health Signature Event of the Summit, Investing in Health: Investing in Africa’s Future, U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Sylvia Burwell led the discussion of U.S.-African health partnerships that have saved and improved millions of lives and driven economic growth. The Ebola crisis at the forefront of the conversation underscored the need for all nations to work collectively to improve global health security. Leaders from African nations and U.S. health agencies -- Guinean President Alpha Condé; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Tom Frieden; Ethiopian Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx; Zambian Vice-President Guy Scott; National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins; Senegalese Minister of Health Dr. Awa Marie Coll-Seck; and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah -- discussed the importance of sharing outbreak information, developing long-term capacity, the Global Health Security Agenda, HIV/AIDS, scientific research, and maternal child health. The conversation pointed to the successes that are possible when we take long-term approaches to resolving health issues that once seemed intractable, including the HIV pandemic, unacceptably high levels of maternal and child mortality, and illness and death due to malaria.
The longstanding public health partnerships between African institutions and U.S. government agencies, such as the CDC, have been central to the response to Ebola in West Africa. Working together with international partners, we must also leave behind stronger, sustainable systems to prevent, detect, and respond to Ebola and other health threats, which is the hallmark of what we are trying to do around the world with partner countries through the Global Health Security Agenda, which asks nations to accelerate action toward the goal that all countries will have these capacities within five years.
The assumption that healthier nations result in healthier economies guides efforts by USAID as it partners with African nations to end preventable maternal and child deaths within a generation. The Saving Mothers, Giving Life initiative underway in Uganda and Zambia demonstrates how focusing on the highest-impact interventions -- and close coordination between U.S., other donors, and partner governments -- can achieve breakthrough results leading to significant reductions in illness and death and incredible gains in economic growth.
These agencies have also been key to the success of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in partnering with African nations toward controlling their HIV/AIDS epidemic and, ultimately, achieving an AIDS-free generation.
I am thrilled that health diplomacy has had a supporting role in all of these efforts and salute our colleagues at NIH, CDC, USAID, and the PEPFAR family led by the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator on their partnerships with African nations that will ensure a healthier human family.
About the Author: Elizabeth "Liz" Jordan serves as Acting Special Representative for the Secretary’s Office of Global Health Diplomacy.
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