Shaping a New Narrative on Global Health Security

July 24, 2023

In 2021, Global Health Council published a report calling for a new narrative around global health security. We then framed that year’s Global Landscape Symposium around the issue to gather perspectives from the community. These discussions highlighted an unfortunate truth: the current definition of global health security encourages countries to base decisions on conditions that could threaten their own populations and economy. In so doing, wealthy countries are conflating national security with health security. 

As our 2021 report points out:

“When ‘protection’ becomes the main justification for global health investment, and the focus is entirely on security, people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) often become seen as vectors of disease that threaten the United States or other high-income countries. Security as a primary narrative also risks elevating a singular health issue at the expense of a central focus on human rights, equity, dignity, and thriving development.”

That’s neither sustainable nor effective. This approach can be traced back to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when wealthy nations saw how public health crises in other countries could be detrimental to the safety of their citizens at home. If we needed further proof that this approach leaves entire populations at risk, COVID-19, which brought to light the gross inequities faced by marginalized and minority populations, certainly made it clear.

To be effective, we have to address global health threats through a human security lens, with a focus on equity, human rights, and solidarity. But how do we get from where we are today — where we have been for decades, if not longer — to a more sustainable approach?

Over the past two years, GHC has given this a great deal of thought. Recently, we put our recommendations into a digital illustration to help articulate our vision.

We are hopeful that this will be an effective tool to help governments and other donors, as well as implementing agencies, civil society, and communities better understand why the current way of doing things won’t work long term. We wanted to provide a roadmap for redefining global health security to be more multidisciplinary, holistic, and most importantly, successful.

A data illustration isn’t an answer, of course. But we hope it will be a conversations starter. We encourage you to use this in your advocacy and education efforts, as appropriate. And we welcome further input, refinements, and collaboration from you to make it as compelling as possible. We not only want to redefine the term “global health security,” but we want to ensure our community is helping to bring the definition to life.