UW Provost Mark Richards joined Sen. Patty Murray and seven global health security experts in Kane Hall on Monday morning to discuss the future of global health in a violent world. The event was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security.
“Not many universities have a department on how to make the world a better place,” Richards said before introducing the department of global health at the UW, which held the event in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, and the Washington Global Health Alliance.
J. Stephen Morrison, CSIS senior vice president and director of CSIS Global Health Policy, opened the discussion with a sobering statistic. According to Morrison 20 million children worldwide do not receive routine immunizations per year and 7 million are in conflict zones.
He then addressed the issue of maternal and child health, the main focus of the event. “An estimated 32 million women and girls of childbearing age are in emergency situations,” Morrison said.
After Morrison, Murray delivered the keynote address and continued the focus on maternal and child health.
“We know that when crisis strikes, it often strikes women hardest as access to health care, including maternal care and family planning services, decreases,” Murray said.
She also spoke of the successes of recent public health endeavors.
“During the 2003 State of the Union, President [George W.] Bush announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — PEPFAR,” Murray said. “I didn’t agree with President Bush a lot, but that was one of the finest moments of his presidency. We came together in a bipartisan way to make life better for families across the world.”
The U.S. military and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mobilized a fast response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa by using previous infrastructure that had been put in place to address polio, Murray explained.
“While we don’t know what the next danger will be, we’ve put the world back in order enough times to know the decisions we make today, will make all the difference in keeping our loved ones safe tomorrow,” said Murray.
After Murray spoke, the panel convened and was moderated by Jimmy Kolker, the former U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Uganda. Panelists were rife with expertise: Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Hamburg, foreign secretary of the National Academy of Medicine and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH; Dr. Scott Dowell, deputy director for surveillance and epidemiology at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Dr. Beth Bell, clinical professor at the UW department of global health and public health practitioner at the UW MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness and Global Health Security; and Dr. Pamela Collins, professor at the UW departments of global health and psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
The panel discussed aspects of health security that need work, the 2014 Ebola crisis, the international response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, maternal and child health, and global mental health response.
Panelists frequently used the example of Ebola to show both the strengths and weaknesses of international infectious disease responses.
“United States security is health security,” Davis, in reference to the American response to the Ebola outbreak, said. Strengthening health care systems in disordered countries could help the United States combat infectious disease outbreaks all over the world before they breached American borders, according to Davis.
Dowell echoed this sentiment, speaking of his involvement in the international response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which killed up to an estimated 300,000 people and led to multiple infectious disease outbreaks, including malaria.
“People came from all over the world to help,” Dowell said.
Collins shifted the attention toward mental health and its comorbidities. “I think maternal health is a great place to start when thinking about [comorbidities]. Suicides are a leading cause of maternal deaths,” Collins said. Perinatal depression is more common in disordered areas, she continued.
Her solution? People. “You can train someone to deliver a psychological intervention,” Collins said.
After the panelists spoke, the discussion was opened to the audience to ask questions. One student asked if health funding that comes from the military could come with unwanted strings attached.
Davis answered that the military does more work for health investment than one might realize, and that many global health efforts get funding from different defense organizations like the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. National Security Council.
Another attendee asked how public health efforts can be mobilized for maternal and child health the way they were for HIV and AIDS. The panelists agreed that more energy needed to be mobilized for more funding.
“The health of a mother has intergenerational effects … depressed mothers are more likely to have, in the fetal stage, be born prematurely … as they develop, they’re more likely to have cognitive problems,” Collins said.
An earlier version of this article misquoted Mark Richards. It has since been updated.
Reach reporter Manisha Jha at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @manishajha_