US urges global effort to prevent future outbreaks

A majority of the world’s governments are not prepared to fight infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola, top U.S. leaders warned Friday, urging countries to bolster their public health systems to protect global security.

Speaking to health and security officials from 44 countries, Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLet's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy The Memo: Democrats struggle to find the strongest swing-state candidate 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster MORE said all nations depend on each other to detect and contain outbreaks within their borders and must make public health a long-term priority. 

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“Make no mistake, unless we help countries build their public health systems and manage future outbreaks, we’re never going to break out of this tragic cycle,” Kerry said. 

The leaders had gathered at the White House for a summit on global health security, an initiative launched by President Obama in February, just weeks before cases of the deadly Ebola virus were identified. 

The Obama administration is redoubling its efforts on global public health in the wake of the Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 3,000 people in several West African nations. 

“Every American has an interest in what we’re doing here. It is not something over there. It is something that connects everybody, all of the time,” Kerry said. 

Kerry was joined by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan

Fewer than 20 percent of countries were deemed qualified to handle infectious disease threats by WHO in 2012. Chan, who has led WHO since 2006, said she can “guarantee” that many countries would miss this year’s deadline as well. 

“The world is ill-prepared to respond to any severe, sustained and threatening public health emergency,” said Chan, who has also helped oversee the global response to SARS and the H1N1 avian flu. 

HHS chief Burwell said the countries could have prevented the widespread destruction caused by Ebola with better-functioning basic health systems. 

Liberia, one of the hardest-hit Western African nations, had already been weakened by a civil war and was less able to control the outbreak. 

“Never has it been clearer that the world’s health security depends on paying attention to our weakest links,” Burwell said. 

The U.S. has committed more than $1 billion to fight Ebola and recently pledged to work with 30 countries to improve their health systems in addressing infectious diseases and biochemical threats.

Melvin Korkor, a Liberian doctor who survived Ebola, drew a standing ovation as he described his struggle to survive: diagnosing himself, isolating himself from his family, and forcing himself to eat and drink.

He was the only survivor out of 10 people in his medical clinic who contracted the disease, largely because they lacked basic supplies like gloves, gowns and masks. 

“We need your support. We need your help,” Korkor said.