CDC director urges global cooperation to ensure security of public health

CDC Director Tom Frieden
CDC Director Tom Frieden

If the world has learned anything from the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, it’s that when one country suffers such a sweeping epidemic, the public health in others also is threatened, said Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Ebola has reminded us that we’re all connected,” Frieden said during a May 12 keynote address in Houston during the George H.W. Bush China-U.S. Relations Conference. “When it affects one country, all countries are affected.”

The conference was created by the former president to establish cooperation and forge closer ties between China and the United States. This month’s iteration, themed “Global Infectious Diseases: Prevention, Preparedness, and Response,” is being attended by some 350 physicians, scientists, policymakers, government staffers and business leaders interested in learning how the two countries might develop a global strategy to prevent emerging worldwide infectious diseases, epidemic threats and bioterrorism.

Outbreaks from such threats -- including the Ebola virus and influenza, among other diseases -- create widespread human suffering and cost countries both economically and socially, Frieden said. The devastation created by the recent Ebola outbreak “was the worst I’d ever seen in my career,” Frieden said. “Basically, I had never seen a country in free fall like West Africa.”

A rapid global response that included organizations like the CDC, he said, actually helped stem what could have become an even-wider public threat that stretched around the world.

In fact, he said, “we need to make more progress” to secure public health on a global scale.”Such cooperation is critical for preventing future epidemics,” Frieden said. “We must prevent avoidable catastrophes, detect threats early and respond rapidly and effectively for a safer world.”

One strategy toward that goal is the establishment of National Public Health Institutes. The CDCs operating in the U.S. and in China are examples of such institutes, which are reknowned for making evidence-based decisions, being politically independent and increasing efficiencies that reduce the existing fragmentation of responders spread across multiple entities, Frieden said.

Infectious diseases aren’t the only area where countries might cooperate, he said. Other unified prevention efforts that countries could undertake are to launch more field epidemiology training programs; team up to eradicate polio; and work to decrease the high use of sodium.

“Only by working together can we have the impact that’s needed” to combat such issues.

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