COVID-19: Yet Another Lesson – and Word of Caution – for Global Health

March 06, 2020

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve, many of us in the global health community are signaling that this is still the beginning of what could be a long road in the coming months. What we do know is the current circumstances warrant swift action from countries and nongovernmental partners worldwide. WHO has led the way, learning from its experience with SARS, Ebola, and Zika outbreaks in recent years. The U.S. is building on a rich history of leadership, as well, with CDC having important roles in both the domestic and global response. As with Ebola, emergency funding for the outbreak has been critical, as well. Right now, in addition to increasing the global health security program budget for CDC, Congress and the Administration now have committed additional dollars for COVID-related operations in the U.S. and abroad. However, more funds might be required – particularly for international programs – if the epidemic grows in low- and middle-income countries where U.S. global health programs operate. That should give us pause.

After all, we’ve seen this movie before and know how outbreaks can have a ripple effect across critical initiatives. Resources shifted to urgent situations in some countries could result in limited access to important maternal and child health services or chronic disease management, for example. And the dominos can fall even harder for especially at risk groups or in humanitarian settings. This likely scenario speaks to an ongoing need for investments in health systems building blocks worldwide. Pipelines and protocols for essential services, supplies, and surveillance must be bolstered before disaster strikes. That way, countries and communities stand a chance weathering the shock or strain of sudden demand. Partners in the Global Heath Security Agenda know this well and, ideally, have a leg up in preparedness.

Now is certainly the time to remain vigilant, not just about the spread of this disease, but also about its aftermath. Global Health Council will be watching both closely, working with our network to identify the wave of impact among their stakeholders today and over time. If we have learned anything from these outbreaks, it’s that there will be more to protect beyond a basic emergency response. Our progress in global health to-date and the risk it faces with each pandemic threat deserves a more holistic approach.


This post was written by Loyce Pace, President and Executive Director.