On the preparedness front in the United States, the new National Biodefense Strategy was released on September 19, 2018. The new strategy establishes clear and thoughtful goals that will become a vital part of “managing the risk of biological incidents… in today’s interconnected world” 1. The creation of such a detailed Biodefense Strategy is extremely important for the United States and international communities, because of the potential for an outbreak to cause far-reaching and international consequences, such as a large amount of death and sickness, psychological trauma, and economic and social disruptions 2. While there have been several strategies released to create a safer environment for the American people, this is the first to address issues relating to cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.
The wishlist for the new Biodefense Strategy 2018 included the desire to create a single, centralized, and comprehensive approach to biodefense; one that encompasses human and animal health, and creates an interdisciplinary approach to health security. The international perspective on biosecurity, which includes both global and domestic biological threats was also desired. A relatively new area of concern involves advances in life sciences. Although there have been many positive outcomes resulting from numerous technological developments in this area, it is also important to understand the risks that they can pose to our society. Experts in this field are aware of this concern, which is why they have recommended regulations and proactive policies that would prevent the misuse or abuse of advancing biotechnology. All of these wishes were acknowledged and implemented into the new approach.
In addition to incorporating all of these requests, the strategy also calls for more practice drills, and promotes communication and works to “reduce the barriers of sharing samples” 3 between countries and organizations. These points have also been raised in interviews that I have conducted with public health experts in Norway and Japan. In both cases the experts agreed that more global drills and better communication across countries would be highly desirable.
This is a great new strategy. However, I do have a couple of concerns:
First, one wonders how this strategy will be implemented in the coming months and years. One key question is where the money needed to execute this strategy will come from and whether funds will be released accordingly. For example, the budget of the The Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, the department responsible for tracking outbreaks of disease, has been cut by almost 10 percent. In addition, the Center for Disease Control’s budget has been cut by 18 percent in 2018 4.
Second, although this strategy states numerous goals that will promote global health security, there is a limited amount of information on what the next steps are and how the United States plans to reach a point of security. What are the next steps and who is accountable for carrying them out?
This is a challenging area to get right, with lots of complexity. Overall, however, the newly created Biodefense Strategy is a promising plan that hopes to ensure prevention, timely detection of pathogens, international cooperation between governments and organizations, and the assessment of the risks included in dual-use research. The Biodefense Strategy has provided the United States with a set of comprehensive and detailed goals, that address distinct challenges about new technology, acknowledge the need for an interdisciplinary approach to combating emerging biological threats, and state the importance of the communication and collaboration that is required to prepare for the dangers of a biological threat, whether deliberate, accidental or natural.
Follow this link to the National Biodefense Strategy 2018: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/National-Biodefense-Strategy.pdf
- National Biodefense Strategy 2018
- Marroquin, Janet “A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Multi-Disciplinary Threats” Pandora Report (2018) https://pandorareport.org/2018/10/04/a-multi-disciplinary-approach-to-multi-disciplinary-threats/
- National Biodefense Strategy 2018
- Baumgaertner, Emily “Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts Trouble Bioterrorism Experts” New York Times 28 May 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/28/us/politics/biosecurity-trump-budget-defense.html