PATH president and CEO gives keynote address at State Department event on global health security

December 14, 2016 by PATH

Steve Davis calls for all sectors to prioritize efforts to better identify and stop outbreaks

Today, Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, gave the opening keynote address at an event hosted by the US Department of State in Washington, DC, titled "Advancing the Global Health Security Agenda: Achievements and Next Steps Toward a World Safe and Secure From Infectious Disease Threats."

Following remarks from Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr. Davis provided an important nongovernmental organization perspective on global health security, and underscored the need for continued efforts to strengthen the ability of countries around the world to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats.

Full remarks from Steve Davis' keynote address:

Thank you, Secretary Kerry, for your extraordinary leadership in bringing us closer to a world that may one day count itself safe from infectious disease and abject poverty.

And thank you all for inviting me to be here today. It's an honor to be part of this important discussion.

This past rainy weekend in Seattle, when I was supposed to be writing a case study for a class I teach at Stanford on social innovation, I started thinking about this talk today and about our important work in global health security.

I found myself wondering—what would a case study written ten years from now have to say about our transformative work on global health security?

And would this case study conclude that we had truly found a way to effectively work together to make the world safer from the grave threat of epidemics?

And while I lack the benefit of a crystal ball, I thought it might be worth taking a few minutes to explore this idea of looking back from the future.

So imagine, that like all good case studies, I started with the problem statement—what we were trying to solve.

I'll assume that there was more than enough evidence from recent history and ongoing trends to expect that the world will see more frequent outbreaks, epidemics, and even pandemics.

But the episodic and diverse nature of these outbreaks combined with the short-term nature of political systems and news cycles meant that we dealt with each one as an isolated crisis rather than addressing the longer-term, systemic issues that are essential to making epidemic preparedness, detection, and response possible.

From this problem, though, a potential solution emerged. Following the Ebola crisis, a new global urgency arose to address the overwhelming danger that epidemics posed to health, economic stability, and security here in America and around the world.

So I'd focus my case study on this key shift—and the interventions and innovations that were deployed to disrupt the old model and change the world for the better.

One of the most important changes would be the United States government's deep and abiding commitment to the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), accompanied by other global efforts to deal with emerging infectious diseases before they became a crisis.

Then, like all case studies, I'd look at what we did right, what we did wrong, and what we learned.

Well, we're only a year in, but I suspect that I'd highlight at least three key lessons:

First, every country needs a strong basic health system, and our success depends on putting those systems at the center of all of our work.

To illustrate this point, I'll use Senegal's response to the Ebola epidemic that killed 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Those deaths occurred, in part, because the health care systems in those countries weren't ready for the surveillance, laboratory, diagnostic, and case-tracking work needed to protect people from exposure and to care for the sick.

Fortunately, next door in Senegal, the story turned out differently.

After years of investments to strengthen its health systems, the government of Senegal, with help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PATH, and others, was able to respond quickly to the crisis by redeploying assets to treat malaria and address other health system needs.

So when a young man who was infected with the disease took a cab from Guinea to Dakar, he was quickly identified by Senegalese health workers who isolated him and tracked down the 74 people with whom he had contact.

He was Senegal's only confirmed case of Ebola. And he recovered.

These outbreaks and epidemics happen within an existing health system, not "on the side." So, as the GHSA has clearly started to do, our work must focus on ensuring that all countries have the appropriate surveillance tools, capabilities, and response systems, staffed by people who are well-trained and ready to engage.

And the value of this work extends beyond just preventing deaths from epidemics, as these same health systems that keep us safe from epidemics also help address HIV, malaria, preventable maternal and child deaths and other major global health challenges that continue to cause widespread devastation.

A second lesson hopefully will be the importance of making smart, targeted investments in pandemic preparedness, and the critical role of an accountability framework to assess the effectiveness of those investments.

Looking back, the 11 action packages of the GHSA were deemed critical to identifying the right areas to invest in, such as better surveillance, expanded laboratory capacity, and the creation of emergency operation centers.

But what really made a difference was the global commitment to sustain progress and the improved ability to monitor the impact of our work—and then modify programs and investments accordingly—that the Joint External Evaluations launched under the GHSA and other mechanisms made possible.

I believe a third lesson will be the core premise of social innovation: that new forms of multisector partnerships across the public, private, social, and academic sectors are essential to creating solutions at the scale needed to truly make a difference. This is where United States government–sponsored partnerships and investments in global health security will be crucial.

Such partnerships are difficult to establish and maintain, but they are essential. There has never been an important innovation in health care that achieved global scale through the work of one sector alone.

If, in the end, we are successful in this health security agenda, such partnerships will have proven indispensable, and they will pave the way for more important breakthroughs in global health and development generally in the next couple of decades.

From the vantage point of my case study, partnerships that mattered will have included deeper collaborations between life sciences businesses and research institutions, closer cooperation across logistics and infrastructure roles in building new centers and capabilities, and groundbreaking projects with technology and data-centered businesses that will transform our ability to quickly understand and respond to an emergency.

To prevent the next devastating pandemic from happening, we'll need partnerships and coalitions that address the problem from end to end—upstream and downstream—starting with research and development and continuing through every stage of the process all the way to delivery of care at the source of the outbreak.

This includes the exciting opportunities presented by CEPI, the new Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, which we have been deeply involved in shaping, as well as other multilateral, bilateral, and institutional efforts across the globe.

Ultimately, the future of global health security will depend as much on innovations in systems, processes, and financing, as it will on breakthroughs in essential medicines and tools.

Of course, there hopefully will be many more lessons to be learned, both from our successes and our failures.

But we're not really here to talk about a future academic exercise.

We're here to focus on a very real, present, and urgent problem.

And one for which we now have more tools, better systems, greater investments, and stronger political will with which to make progress.

I believe this means we must redouble the efforts of the United States to work across the public, private, philanthropic, social, and academic sectors to create sustainable, scalable solutions that save lives and protect our security. To contribute to a more equitable and prosperous world—and a safer America.

Regardless of our politics, our policies, or our profits—or whether we are coming from this as a policymaker or funder, NGO leader, activist, business leader, or indeed, a professor—our common interest lies in finding global solutions to global threats.

Thank you.

[End of transcript]

Posted December 14, 2016.