Gerald Parker, D.V.M., Ph.D., vice president for public health preparedness and response at Texas A&M Health Science Center, will present at the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) high-level meeting on September 7 and the Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD) meeting on September 9, both in Seoul, South Korea.

A five-year effort between governments and stakeholders, the GHSA seeks to accelerate progress toward a world that is safe and secure from infectious disease threats, and to promote global health security as an international security priority.

“The emergence and spread of new and reemerging infectious diseases, rise of diseases that are drug resistant, globalization of travel and trade, and the potential for accidental or deliberate creation and/or release of dangerous pathogens has created the perfect storm triggering public health and security risks for the global community,” Parker said. “The impact on individual and collective health is clear, but the growing risks from trans-boundary infectious diseases also have significant economic, political and national security implications. The need to develop global capacities to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to infectious disease threats has never been greater.”

Hosted by the Korea Foundation and Minister of Health, Parker will speak to those in attendance at the GHSA meeting – including leaders and Ministers of Health from a number of countries, as well as top officials from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Departments of State and Health and Human Services, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation – on gaps and challenges for government and non-government stakeholders.

“While the GHSA offers great potential to provide the framework for effective international collaboration, this relies upon multilateral, whole of government and whole of society collaborations to focus efforts toward closing health security gaps,” he added.

The GHSA builds upon existing policies and programs, and fully supports international organizations’ work on health security; particularly the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The goal is to enable core capacity building to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks, particularly in low resource countries where public health systems are in the greatest need.

“Often, these are the same regions of the world where infectious diseases first emerge; and where there may also be a terrorist nexus enabling easy acquisition of dangerous pathogens from laboratories and/or nature for use as bioterror weapons,” Parker said.

Since its launch in February 2014, the GHSA has developed concrete actions to focus efforts on required capacity building.

“Political, financial and country commitments have been made and continue to grow,” Parker added. “While there has been success to date, the GHSA has only taken the first and least expensive steps on the road to making the world safe and secure from infectious disease threats.”

According to Parker, non-government stakeholders are key to the GHSA’s success. “Non government stakeholders are the link that connects governments and donors to host countries, local institutions and individuals to effect global health security.”

Parker will also participate in a panel discussion with the SDD on defense cooperation.

The SDD is a multilateral defense dialogue, initiated in 2012 by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, and serves as a forum for dialogues with participation by defense officials and security experts to seek practical solutions for security issues both in the Korean Peninsula and around the world.

“Although once controversial, health and national security are no longer separate policy domains,” Parker said. “Defense leaders, who once viewed the world through a narrow security lens, are now building global health cooperative engagement and other capacity building into their operational plans.”

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and 70 years since the division of Korea, which serves as the SDD 2015’s theme. Parker will join defense officials and security experts from 32 countries and four international organizations in in-depth discussions on global health security and other defense topics, including opportunities and limitations of defense cooperation in supporting the GHSA.

“The attributes of leveraging defense expertise and capabilities to support civilian health and other authorities in a whole of government and whole of society approach are the ingredients required for global health security and defense cooperation,” Parker said.

Of note, the U.S. government has created a program to secure the next generation of global health security agenda leaders. Upon his return from Korea, Parker will promote opportunities for faculty and students to become engaged in global health security initiatives. “Global health security is a marathon and needs the next generation to step forward, to continue the torch, to impact public health across the globe.”

As a 35-year veteran of federal public service, including nine years as a senior executive at the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Defense, Parker has developed a number of professional relationships with public health and national security staff throughout Korea.

— Holly Shive

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