For decades, the U.S. and China have collaborated on international health issues, and the timing has never been more pivotal to take­­­­­­­­­­­­ that partnership to the next level, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., told an audience of the world’s most elite physicians, scientists, policymakers, government officials and business leaders during the China-U.S. Relations Conference keynote address on May 12.

“We have a choice before us. We can either invest in prevention and make a real difference in preventing illness, suffering and death, or we can pay a whole lot more later, whether it’s enduring outbreaks of Ebola or treating diseases that could have been prevented,” Frieden said.

In his speech chronicling the necessary international response to mitigate health threats, Frieden explained that collaboration has strengthened the U.S. and China’s abilities to address global public health concerns such as polio — currently active in Pakistan — tuberculosis, training of disease detectives and an effective response to H7N9, including development of a candidate vaccine. Connecting complementary programs has allowed the two countries to build upon their abilities to detect and respond to infectious and noncommunicable diseases alike, including the role of sodium in high blood pressure and heart disease, and use of folic acid to prevent birth defects.

“We have a global collaboration leading to a global benefit, and that is important as a theme for this conference and the work we do together,” Frieden said.

The work can’t stop there.

The importance of such transnational collaborations came to the fore with the recent Ebola outbreak, which has claimed more than 11,000 lives worldwide. Even as the U.S. worked stateside to contain four confirmed cases including one death, the two countries partnered together when the China CDC established a laboratory in Sierra Leone, completing more than 15,000 Ebola diagnostic tests.

He noted that while the World Health Organization declared an end to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia on May 9, the interconnectedness of our globe today means that a problem in one country, in one region, can become a problem in another.

“Ebola, influenza and other diseases are examples of why we need to make more progress on global health security,” Frieden said. “We really are all connected by the air we breathe, the food we eat and the planes we ride on.”

To minimize the chance that another outbreak of Ebola’s magnitude will occur again will take a concerted effort to strengthen every nation’s capacity to deal with such a public health crisis, Frieden said.

Through the U.S. and China’s partnerships with other countries, as well as non-governmental organizations, philanthropic entities and the private sector, more nations will be able to detect, prevent and respond to threats including infectious disease, bioterrorism and the rising number of drug-resistant bacteria. Initiatives like the five-year Global Health Security Agenda seeks to help countries that have at least 4 billion people to build sustainable health care delivery infrastructures. Already 40 countries including the U.S. and China have signed on to help in this effort, which expands into dozens of countries in need in 2015.

Established partnerships such as the China-U.S. Conference are yet another example of the countries’ shared history of collaboration, but it also offers the opportunity to help other nations develop their public frameworks for response, Frieden said.

“It would be wonderful if one of the collaborations between the U.S. and China would ask, ‘How can we help countries establish National Public Health Institutes?’

“There is a widespread understanding that infectious disease will continue to be with us, and that we need to have a partnership with other countries to address them,” Frieden said. “Only by working together will we be able to have the impact necessary.”

— Jennifer Fuentes

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