At the start of February 2016, the GCSP organised its first executive education programme in the field of global health security. Attention to the global security challenges concerning public health issues has been steadily on the rise lately, not least due to the Ebola crisis and the establishment of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). At the last minute, however, the continuing spread of the Zika virus in Latin America and in the Caribbean made the timing of the four-day course at the GCSP even more topical than expected.
As it turned out, the opening day of the GCSP course coincided with the meeting of the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee on the Zika virus, convened by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Profiting from the proximity at the WHO in Geneva, the GCSP was able to adapt the course schedule to benefit from this directly.
After a keynote address on health security from the U.S. coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, the 16 course participants representing 10 different countries received an introduction to the International Health Regulations from Dr David Heymann (Chatham House) immediately before Dr Heymann went on to chair the meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee.
Later in the afternoon, these insights were deepened during a site visit of the course to the WHO. At the same time, in the same building, the Emergency Committee meeting resulted in the declaration of the cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological cases possibly linked to the Zika virus as constituting a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
After such a timely start, over the two following days the course went on to address many of the key action packages of the GHSA, ranging from antimicrobial resistance to zoonotic disease, from biosafety and biosecurity to national laboratory systems and surveillance. In exercise sessions, the participants were first given general skills for crisis management and were then allowed to try them out in scenarios set in different stages of the Ebola crisis.
The final day of the course was opened with a site visit to the Geneva University Hospital, where experts shared recent experiences of the hospital in treating an Ebola patient in Geneva as well as in leading an important Ebola vaccine trial.
The final keynote concluding the course was given by Professor Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former President of the Swiss Confederation and member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Global Response to Health Crises.
The course was supported by the Swiss government as its contribution to the Global Health Security Agenda.