Finding common ground on stopping the next pandemic
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As the new administration takes over pandemic relief efforts, whether continuing to distribute vaccines developed by Operation Warp Speed, or providing new economic relief, thinking about the next global pandemic may seem daunting. Yet there is no better time to confront the fact that the United States remains vulnerable to the next global pandemic. With the Biden administration having established its commitment to unity, it’s clear our nation's leaders can and should reach a bipartisan agreement to improve global preparedness and response.

Thankfully, there’s already a blueprint. After allocating $1.6 billion to help stem the pandemic's tide, my career team at the State Department worked with outside experts and the best minds across the interagency to develop a solution for future pandemic preparedness and response: America's Response to Outbreaks (ARO). The proposal would do two things: 1) create real coordination among U.S. government agencies while harnessing the power of America's private sector, and 2) build a new multilateral organization focused exclusively on pandemic preparedness and response, providing greater accountability and burden sharing across the global community.

Similar principles have been embraced by elected officials. While my office was developing ARO, Sens. Jim RischJim Elroy RischIran's presidential election puts new pressure on US nuclear talks GOP lawmakers urge Biden to add sanctions on Russia over Navalny poisoning GOP senators introduce bill to make Iran deal subject to Senate approval MORE (R-Idaho), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress barrels toward debt cliff End the practice of hitting children in public schools Public option fades with little outcry from progressives MORE (D-Conn.), and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSchumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' The Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' Antsy Democrats warn of infrastructure time crunch MORE (D-Md.) recognized the same challenges and offered the bipartisan Global Health Security and Diplomacy Act.

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Building off these efforts, the Biden administration released the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. In it, the president calls for many ideas proposed for ARO, including the development of a clear strategy, better coordination inside the U.S. interagency, development of an early warning system, multilateral reforms and coordination, and more robust diplomatic engagement.

The new administration and Congress are right to embrace this opportunity and lead on creating enduring system that will keep the world and the American people safe today and in the future. The challenges presented by COVID-19 and past infectious disease outbreaks, such as Ebola and Zika, are intensifying and must be addressed.

Three key ideas are crucial to the success of any effort by Congress and the Biden administration:

  1. Ensure accountable and focused leadership. Authorize an empowered coordinator at the Department of State to ensure coherent approaches to pandemic preparedness and response across multiple agencies, from diplomatic efforts to foreign assistance. The coordinator needs to be accountable to Congress and have the staff, resources, and institutional support necessary. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it's that America needs to be working on pandemic preparedness all day, every day.
  2. Embrace across-the-board burden sharing. The U.S. accounts for almost 40 percent of the world's global health assistance. Merely adding global pandemic preparedness to the bill to American taxpayers is not the right answer. While additional U.S. contributions are necessary, we need to ask more from other donors and host countries in a coordinated and integrated way. Global leadership doesn’t mean bearing the global costs alone.
  3. Harness the power and ingenuity of the private sector. The private sector stimulates economic growth and innovation and represents the vast majority of capital investment moving into the developing world. The success of any global effort demands involving American and international private sectors, while also advancing opportunities for American businesses.

Because of their structure and mandate, there are limits to what the World Health Organization can do, even with the strongest reforms. So while remaining in the WHO is now reassured, America still must embrace its own reforms to address health security gaps and new challenges.

We can’t just leave pandemic preparedness on the shelf. Many Americans rightfully worry about when, not if, the next outbreak will strike. We can mitigate their worries by viewing this current pandemic as a warning and a motivator to action.

Jim Richardson is Former Director of the Office of Foreign Assistance at the Department of State and Coordinator of USAID’s Transformation.