June 27, 2019

3 takeaways from the inaugural Global Health Security Conference

Philip Kenol
Policy and Advocacy Officer
PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

Last week, the Australian government and the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security convened practitioners, researchers, educators, and decision-makers across the fields of public health, medicine, veterinary science, agriculture, government, defense, and anthropology for the first Global Health Security Conference in Sydney to examine the progress made to date in strengthening health systems and to identify gaps and opportunities for enhancing the international community’s ability to respond more efficiently and effectively to future health crises.

GHTC was on the ground, following the official agenda, participating in side events, and speaking on a panel on innovative game changers to advance prioritization of research and development (R&D) in the Global Health Security Agenda. Here are our three key takeaways from the conversations:

1. Innovation recognized as vital to advancing health security.

The role of innovation in strengthening health security was highlighted throughout the week, with official sessions and side events showcasing innovative products, partnerships, and research central to advancing global health security.

GHTC had a speaking role on a Global Health Security Agenda Consortium panel focused on game changers in global health security and used the opportunity to highlight key innovations that are being used on the front lines in the fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The panel hit on key themes that were echoed in other sessions, including the need to build local capacity for deployment of new tools and medicines, enhancing laboratory infrastructure, and strengthening health systems and community response capabilities. Much of the dialogue also centered around the need to engage local stakeholders in the development of innovations, ensuring that tools and technologies are designed and adapted for the local context, and that the deployment of treatment measures for emerging health threats is executed with firm community support to increase the chance of successful implementation.

Other speakers throughout the week also highlighted the regulatory and implementation challenges that organizations and countries face when seeking to develop and deploy new tools and innovations and recommended strenghtening global governing structures that could facilitate addressing hurdles around approval timelines and streamline the processes.

2. We need a strong focus on financing and sustainability. 

One core message that was consistent throughout the week was the need for a stronger focus on sustainability. Delegates agreed that states and organizations are too reactive in their mindsets, only responding to the latest outbreak and not taking the necessary preemptive steps, including through R&D, to develop the local, regional, and global capacities that are necessary to effectively combat emerging infectious diseases and other health threats. Ensuring that local infrastructure, laboratory systems, clinical capacity, and overall primary health care services are continually enhanced will allow for a more effective response.  

Ebbs and flows in funding for epidemic diseases create additional challenges. The recent Ebola outbreak is a perfect example of how additional public resources can be mobilized to respond to global threats. However, absent a crisis, emergency preparedness and capacity building are often de-prioritized, and the necessary funding needed for additional innovation and product development is often lacking. Delegates called for a more durable approach of creating policies and incentives that catalyze investment for specific diseases, infrastructure, and health workers. Some also suggested looking to multilateral institutions for greater financial support for programmatic activities and creating stronger partnerships with the private sector. As one speaker put it best: “We must marry political capital with money.”

3. Multisectoral approach critical to path forward.

Are we asking too much of the health sector and not enough of everyone else? In the closing plenary, this question served as a call to action to engage non-traditional stakeholders and relevant decision-makers in other sectors to develop a truly multisectoral approach to strengthen health systems overall and develop the tools and capabilities in-country to detect, diagnose, and treat those threatened by global health threats.

Ministers of Health have a difficult case to make when asking for more resources, financial or otherwise. The value of preventive measures is often invisible, since doing it right means there is no outcome. As global health practitioners, advocates, researchers, and decision-makers look for new ways to engage partners in different fora, such as the G20, building linkages to other sectors and government priorities will be key to creating the political buy-in necessary to advance the agenda around global health security.