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Brussels, 11 September 2009

Questions and Answers on the Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI)

What is the Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI)?

The terrorist attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001 and the subsequent 'anthrax' scare, brought to the world's attention the threat of deliberate attacks through the use of biological, chemical or nuclear agents.

The Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI) is an informal, international partnership among like-minded countries to strengthen health preparedness and response globally to threats of biological, chemical, radio-nuclear terrorism (CBRN) and pandemic influenza.

This Initiative was launched in November 2001 by Canada, the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States. The World Health Organization serves as an expert advisor to the GHSI. The GHSI was envisaged as an informal group to fill a gap for like-minded countries to address health issues of the day, such as global health security.

The key objective is to develop ways for a concerted global action to strengthen public health preparedness and response to the threat of international biological, chemical and radio-nuclear terrorism.

Under the GHSI, the partners have agreed to forge a partnership to address issues of protecting public health and security globally, and to work together in the following areas:

  • To explore joint cooperation in procuring vaccines and antibiotics.

  • To engage in a constructive dialogue regarding the development of rapid testing, research in variations of vaccines, and our respective regulatory frameworks for the development of vaccines, and in particular smallpox vaccines.

  • To further support the World Health Organization's disease surveillance network and WHO's efforts to develop a coordinated strategy for disease outbreak containment.

  • To share emergency preparedness and response plans, including contact lists, and consider joint training and planning.

  • To agree on a process for international collaboration on risk assessment and management and a common language for risk communication.

  • To improve linkages among laboratories, including level four laboratories, in those countries which have them.

  • To undertake close cooperation on preparedness and response to radio-nuclear and chemical events.

  • To share surveillance data from national public health laboratories and information on real or threatened contamination of food and water supplies along with information on risk mitigation strategies to ensure safe food supplies.

In December 2002 at the Mexico City Ministerial Meeting, Ministers broadened the scope of the GHSI mandate to include the public health threat posed by pandemic influenza. Since its inaugural meeting in Canada (November 2001), the Ministerial Forum has met in the UK (2002), Mexico (December 2002), Germany (November 2003), France (2004), Italy (2005), Japan (2006) and the United States (2007).

The European Commission hosted the 2008 Ministerial meeting in Brussels last December.

Why is the Commission involved in the GHSI?

The European Commission is committed to addressing health security at both global level through the GHSI and at European level.

Following the priorities agreed in the Health Council meeting of 15 November 2001, the Council and the Commission developed a programme in order to coordinate and support the public health preparedness and response capacity and planning of the Member States against biological and chemical agents attacks (Health Security).

Subsequently, the Health Security Committee (HSC) was created as an informal cooperation and coordination body to exchange information on health–related threats from acts of terrorism or any deliberate release of biological or other agents. The Health Security Committee consists of the representatives of the EU Members States, representatives of Directorate – General for Health and Consumers and other relevant Commission services and agencies (e.g. ECDC, EMEA). The HSC holds regular meetings twice a year.

How does the GHSI function?

During the Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 the GHSI members have shared information rapidly and effectively through a senior health officials network called the Global Health Security Action Group (GHSAG). The role of this network is to develop and implement concrete actions to improve global health security. It also serves as a network of rapid communication/reaction in the event of a crisis. Several working groups have been established to work on specific issues. These are:

  • Risk Management and Communications Working Group

  • Pandemic Influenza Working Group

  • Chemical Events Preparedness

  • Radio-nuclear Working Group

  • The Global Health Security Laboratory Network

Under the risk management group, a communicators’ network carries out emergency communication exercises. Linked to the global information exchange, an early alerting and reporting project between GHSI partners has been piloted and the GHSI have agreed to develop it further. The risk management group has also set up of a core list of threats and done capacity building on specific threats (e.g. ricin and anthrax).

Border issues have a particular focus in the pandemic influenza working group. The policy discussions and the scientific reasoning for policy decisions between GHSI members on border issues (e.g. on entry screening at the airports and support for nationals outside of their own territory) led to an agreement in 2008 ministerial that border closures are ineffective measures for pandemic influenza.

The chemical working group is focusing on cross-national exchange and capacity building on toxic industrial chemicals and plan to develop list of chemicals of concern across GHSI countries. In addition, the group is surveying medical countermeasures and identifying areas for potential collaboration in drug research and development in this context.

The radio-nuclear working group supports the development of an International Radiological and Nuclear Laboratory Response Network. In addition, this group is looking at establishing the path forward to collaborate on medical countermeasures research, development, stockpiling, distribution platforms, and policy issues.

The permanent secretariat of the GHSI is in Canada which steers the annual work programme of the GHSI.

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