Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The Next Pandemic Will Be Arriving Shortly

| Sep. 28, 2018

There are plenty of security threats that could keep a former homeland security advisor awake. There is the possibility of a terrorist attack, a cyber-cataclysm, or any number of natural disasters—all threats that are capable of visiting destruction on entire communities in a matter of hours. Right at the top of that list is the threat of a deadly pandemic—an outbreak of infectious disease that rapidly crosses international borders.

In January 2017, while one of us was serving as a homeland security advisor to outgoing President Barack Obama, a deadly pandemic was among the scenarios that the outgoing and incoming U.S. Cabinet officials discussed in a daylong exercise that focused on honing interagency coordination and rapid federal response to potential crises. The exercise is an important element of the preparations during transitions between administrations, and it seemed things were off to a good start with a commitment to continuity and a focus on biodefense, preparedness, and the Global Health Security Agenda—an initiative begun by the Obama administration to help build health security capacity in the most critically at-risk countries around the world and to prevent the spread of infectious disease. But that commitment was short-lived.

Pandemic disease is arguably one of the greatest threats to global stability and security. But investments to contend with such outbreaks have declined to their lowest levels since the height of the Ebola response in 2014, with U.S. federal dollars cut by over 50 percent from those peak levels.

The prevailing laissez-faire attitude toward funding pandemic preparedness within President Donald Trump’s White House is creating new vulnerabilities in the health infrastructure of the United States and leaving the world with critical gaps to contend with when the next global outbreak of infectious disease hits.

The investments made after the 2014 Ebola crisis have been slashed in recent proposed federal budgets from the Centers for Disease Control, the agency that works to stop deadly diseases in their tracks, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which responds to international disasters, including the Ebola outbreak. Moreover, Timothy Ziemer, the top White House official in charge of pandemic preparedness, has left his job, and the biosecurity office he ran was summarily disbanded.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Monaco, Lisa and Vin Gupta.“The Next Pandemic Will Be Arriving Shortly.” Foreign Policy, September 28, 2018.