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Despite the clear lessons of history - most recently the West African Ebola Epidemic - the international community systematically underestimates the urgent global health hazards posed by emerging infectious diseases. Indeed, looming challenges – namely, rising populations, urbanization, mass migration, rapid travel and trade, climate change, weak states and ethno-nationalism – render pandemic preparedness more acute than ever before. This article details the urgent threats to global health security and argues that the international community must learn from previous outbreaks and urgently invest in preparedness.

The article offers a blueprint for a more secure future from pathogenic threats facing humankind. We argue that states must pivot from the existing reactive approach to one of preparedness. What would it take to create a decidedly more secure world? What steps must we put in place to bolster defenses against infectious diseases? What are the political, financial, and regulatory obstacles standing in the way?

We contend that global health security requires economic investment, strong international institutions led by an empowered World Health Organization, resilient national health systems, targeted research and development, and effective communication with affected populations. We detail recent reforms of the WHO and emergency response within the UN system.

Ultimately, future action must be guided by cooperative action, shared responsibility, equity and fairness, and respect for global health norms. Through a modest security dividend, states could ensure far greater health security. Yet, notwithstanding promising initiatives, the current political climate of ethno-nationalistic populism risks undercutting global solidarity and destabilizing global action against fast moving epidemics.

Publication Citation

Lawrence O. Gostin & Katharina E. Ó Cathaoir, Lurching from Complacency to Panic in the Fight Against Dangerous Microbes: A Blueprint for a Common Secure Future, 67 Emory L.J. 337-396 (2018).