Global health security: Where do we stand?

IN a world where boundaries seem to blur, the concept of global health security has emerged as a crucial framework. It revolves around the idea of having resilient public health systems that can effectively prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats, regardless of where they may surface across the globe. As we navigate this complex landscape, Pakistan, with its unique blend of public and private healthcare sectors, finds itself at the forefront of global health security challenges.
The seismic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the interconnectedness of our world. The virus, indifferent to borders, has traversed nations and continents, making it abundantly clear that the health of one nation is intimately tied to the health of others. In this interconnected reality, Pakistan assumes a significant role, not only as a nation grappling with its own health challenges but as a part of the global community that shares the responsibility of safeguarding the health of humanity.

Pakistan’s health landscape is marked by a distinctive duality. A nation of resilience, we grapple with the ongoing challenge of polio — standing as one of only two countries in the world yet to eradicate this debilitating disease. Additionally, our population bears the weight of a considerable burden of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, drug-resistant typhoid and hepatitis B and C. Furthermore, Pakistan carries the unenviable distinction of having the highest prevalence of diabetes globally, adding another layer of complexity to our public health concerns.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has vividly illustrated, we cannot isolate ourselves from global health threats. The interconnectedness of our world requires a collective and coordinated effort to address health challenges. For Pakistan, this means not only tackling our domestic health issues but also realizing our role as a potential reservoir for infectious diseases with implications beyond our borders.
One of the critical aspects we must confront is antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Pakistan’s poor prescription practices and certain agricultural practices contribute to the global challenge of AMR. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics, both in human health and animal husbandry, contribute to the emergence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. This, in turn, poses a significant threat to the effectiveness of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs, compromising our ability to treat infections effectively.
To be a responsible global player in health security, Pakistan needs to adopt a stewardship role in its health system. This involves ensuring strong controls, regulations and effective implementation mechanisms. It means improving prescription practices to curb unnecessary antibiotic use, both in healthcare settings and agriculture.

Moreover, investing in research and development to discover new antimicrobial agents, along with promoting vaccination programs and public health education, are vital components of a comprehensive strategy. Strengthening surveillance and monitoring systems for infectious diseases and enhancing international collaboration in health research and development can further solidify Pakistan’s contribution to global health security.
In essence, our nation stands at a critical juncture. We must recognize the shared responsibility we bear for global health security. By addressing our unique health challenges and actively participating in global efforts to combat infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance, Pakistan can transform from being perceived as a potential threat to becoming a proactive partner in securing the health and well-being of people worldwide. The journey toward global health security is not one that any nation undertakes alone — it is a collective endeavour, with each country playing a vital role in the shared pursuit of a healthier and safer world.
—The writer is Associate Professor, Health Services Academy, Islamabad.

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views expressed are writer’s own.