HHS Secretary Burwell: The Role of GHSA in Supporting Countries’ Capacity to Implement the IHR

HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell
The Role of GHSA in Supporting Countries’ Capacity
to Implement the IHRs

Geneva, Switzerland
May 23, 2016

“Continued partnership, vigilance, and commitment means we all will be better prepared for the health threats that come our way.”

[AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY]

Thank you, Ibu Linda. I’d also like to thank Minister Moeloek and Indonesia for organizing this event and inviting me to join such a distinguished group of leaders.

It’s hard to believe that we launched the Global Health Security Agenda just two years ago. Thanks to hard work from many of you in this room, our nations have made impressive progress in that short time. Together, we are more ready than ever to face global health challenges.

Still, as each of us builds our capacity to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats, we may not always see or be able to quantify our own vulnerabilities. That’s why external evaluations have become central to the implementation of the International Health Regulations, or IHR.

These evaluations strengthen individual countries, as well as our global health community. The United States worked with Finland, WHO, FAO, OIE and other GHSA partners, to develop and pilot the GHSA External Assessments last year. That process provided a foundation for the new WHO IHR Joint External Evaluation tool that has replaced the GHSA assessment instrument.

I’m excited to announce that, this week, an international team of experts is in the United States to perform a Joint External Evaluation. A diverse group of experts from around the world, including from WHO, are helping us assess our capacities and strengthen our national readiness. We will also post the results publicly on GHSAgenda.org. I am proud to follow in the footsteps of five countries who have already undergone this evaluation, and look forward to hearing about the nearly 40 who are planning to do so.

Undergoing an evaluation requires a whole-of-government approach, gathering data and experiences from agencies and sectors. The Department of Health and Human Services served as the coordinating agency for the U.S. assessment, but we brought together experts from the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more than a dozen others.

In the U.S., we faced challenges on coordinating across a large and complex federal system. Our preparations for the evaluation team’s visit showed us that we have work to do to ensure the kind of seamless communication between different levels and agencies that we need.

But undertaking the self-assessment portion of the evaluation already started to strengthen relationships across agencies. We have identified preliminary areas for improvement that were not revealed by the old IHR self-reporting questionnaire, and we are already mapping out how to address these issues. For example, we are now working to strengthen the link between human and animal health to more quickly identify disease outbreaks in animals that could affect humans.

And one of the most important things we learned through this process was that reaching the goals of health security requires continuous feedback and evaluation to find and fill gaps.

As the international team spends this week meeting with experts across our government, I am confident that we will learn even more.

No nation has mastered this work. Health threats change and evolve, and we must adapt along with them. With the International Health Regulations and the Joint External Evaluations, we have the tools to more clearly identify issues and target resources.

GHSA has succeeded because governments and partners recognized its value and made health security a high priority. The U.S. is coordinating closely with other G7 partners to strengthen capacities in 76 partner countries, translating these strong political commitments into action.

Continued partnership, vigilance and commitment means we all will be better prepared for the health threats that come our way. Together, we will be a stronger, more secure global community.

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