Lessons Learned From the Ebola Crisis: MSC organizes Health Security Roundtable on the Sidelines of the WHS in Berlin
On October 9, the Munich Security Conference (MSC) organized a Health Security Roundtable on the sidelines of the World Health Summit at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. The MSC joined efforts with the M8 Alliance to bring together leading representatives from international organizations, policy-makers, and researchers to discuss global health security in the aftermath of the Ebola crisis.
The discussion at the Health Security Roundtable revolved mainly around two topics: the nexus between health and security and the lessons learned from recent health security crises, especially the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Inputs were provided by Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the MSC, Detlev Ganten, Founding President of the World Health Summit, Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, Regional Director for Africa of the World Health Organization, Victor J. Dzau, President, National Academy of Medicine, Yves Daccord, Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as Florian Westphal, Director of Médécins Sans Frontières, Germany.
On the issue of the nexus between health and security, there was consensus that it is paramount to expand the meaning of security to health issues. Participants agreed that the link between the two topics had manifested itself most clearly during the Ebola crisis, when the spread of Ebola constituted a major threat to human security and military intervention significantly contributed to controlling the epidemic. "Truly a tragedy was necessary to raise the importance of health security," according the Regional Director for Africa of the WHO, Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti.
Although there was still a lot of emphasis in the security debate on traditional defense issues, participants agreed that pandemics and other health crises were an equally dangerous threat to humanity. However, participants also raised concerns about linking health and security, if this process was understood as a "downgrade" of health to a security issue only. Especially representatives of NGOs were concerned that the health debate should not focus on emergencies only, but would need to continue to work towards improving human health systems in the broader sense.
Concerning the lessons learned from recent health security crises, participants acknowledged that both international institutions such as the WHO, the African Union, the G20 etc. seemed to be taking the security threat of health pandemics more seriously today. The "Global Health Security Agenda" initiative – a partnership of affected nations, international institutions and other stakeholders – was named as a particular step forward in this regard. Participants also referred to the numerous reports (e.g. Global Health Risk Framework) of different commissions, which provided lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak for the international health policy regime.
For the Roundtable participants, these lessons mainly revolved around five issues. First, they saw a general need to strengthen the resilience of national health systems (e.g. via benchmarking and the creation of national actions plans). Emergency detection and response systems to immediate health security threats would have to be a significant part of the resilience concept. Second, health security was seen as a particular threat in areas where governments are at times not the main provider of security, i.e. in fragile / failed states. Any health security initiative would need to take this into account. Third, participants pointed to the risk that health security issues would not continue to receive the current levels of attention as they would arise particularly in places with limited governance or in countries without sufficient international "weight". "There is a risk that health is only relevant if there is a risk to powerful nations (like in Ebola) – but interventions need to come much earlier," Florian Westphal, the Director of Médécins Sans Frontières Germany, stressed. Fourth, humanitarian work in conflict was seen as more difficult than ever. This, participants argued, was mainly due to unclear standards for intervention as well as the targeting of health infrastructure by relevant actors (including states), e.g. the bombing of hospitals in the Syrian conflict. There was consensus that this constituted a new level of security threat to the health system itself. Fifth and finally, a takeaway for the research and development community was hat current mechanisms for the development and dissemination of drugs would be insufficient to supply the right medication for those worst affected by health security crises.