Written by RADM Stephen Redd, MD, director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
We issued a challenge to ourselves and to all nations of the world to make concrete pledges towards three key goals: prevent, detect and respond. We have to prevent outbreaks by reducing risks. We need to detect threats immediately wherever they arise. And we need to respond rapidly and effectively when we see something happening so that we can save lives and avert even larger outbreaks.
–President Obama, Global Health Security Agenda Summit
In the almost 30 years I have been at CDC, the agency’s role in preparing our nation for public health emergencies has grown tremendously. The emergence of larger public health events requires the need for a coordinated agency response that prompted us to build on our scientific base and become more skilled at managing and coordinating the challenges of large public health events. We have been given the enormous task of improving our domestic and global health security by preventing avoidable epidemics, detecting threats early, and responding rapidly and effectively to any public health event.
The road to zero
The Ebola response has single-handedly brought us into a new age of preparedness and response. We have learned how to be better prepared here in the United States, improving things like training, protocols, and communication domestically. The response has also left us with a pathway to improving preparedness and response in the international setting.
Domestically, we worked with our Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) state and local health departments to screen and monitor travelers. Together, we have provided active monitoring to more than 21,500 travelers returning from Ebola affected countries since October 2014. With a 21-day monitoring period per passenger, the total time monitored is more than a half a million monitored days. We also ramped up our health care system support by improving infection control, laboratory networks and technical assistance. Our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated for more than 15 months, working 24/7 to support the Ebola response.
The Ebola response is the largest response in CDC’s history. Within a week of the initial report of Ebola, CDC had an expert team on the ground in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Through the last half of 2014, we had deployed over 1,000 staff. CDC focused on the basic tools to control the outbreak: tracing contacts, strengthening health care, mobilizing laboratories, monitoring borders, and communicating and educating.
Ebola has reminded us that every country must have a core set of public health capabilities to detect a threat when it emerges, respond rapidly and effectively, and prevent it wherever possible. Each country has the responsibility to protect its people, and all countries need to be prepared. All disease monitoring and emergency response begins at the local level. Response from individual countries will always be quicker, more efficient, and more cost-effective than responding from a great distance. However, epidemics do not stay within borders and are not only the problem of individual countries or regions. When national capacities are overwhelmed, the world must move immediately and decisively to contain the outbreak.
Public health threats are always present. And preparing for these threats requires us to continuously adapt. Our global health security depends on the ability of countries to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from public health threats. At the center of our nation’s public health system, CDC exists to help protect communities and save lives by controlling disease outbreaks.