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Public Health Watch: New CDC Initiatives Take Global Approach to Disease Threats

The federal agency will provide $22 million in funding to organizations worldwide dedicated to identifying next crisis.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is paying new attention to a serious public health threat with a much longer history—antimicrobial resistance.

On December 7, the agency announced that it has allocated $22 million toward the launch of 2 global networks—the Global Action in Healthcare Network (GAIHN) and the Global AR Laboratory and Response Network. The initiatives mark a partnership with nearly 30 organizations globally with the common goal of combatting antimicrobial resistance and other healthcare threats, officials said.

“The CDC and the rest of federal government had a sober recognition that we were behind in our preparedness for antimicrobial-resistant threats,” Michael Craig, senior advisor for Antibiotic Resistance and the CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit told Contagion. “We realized we needed to be doing more not just domestically but globally. Fundamentally, this is about trying to improve the capacity of low- and middle-income countries to identify and respond to antimicrobial-resistant threats. If we can get ahead of these threats as they’re developing, the better we can contain them.”

The funding within these programs, he said, would be used to improve healthcare quality and infection control globally, by strengthening lab networks, medication use guidance, and access to diagnostics and other technologies. At first blush, it would seem the effort is in direct response to the lessons learned about the global nature of public health threats driven home by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it dates to the agency’s first National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in 2014, Craig emphasized.

According to the CDC, the 28 organizations receiving funding include: the American Society for Microbiology (ASM); the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC); the American University of Beirut; the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL); Columbia University; Duke University; Family Health International (FHI360); FIOTEC; Global Scientific Solutions for Health; Health Security Partners; Johns Hopkins University; Koperasi Jasa Institut Riset Eijkman; Northwestern University; the Pakistan National Institute of Health; the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO); Ohio State University; the US Civilian Research & Development Foundation (CRDF); Universidad de Desarrollo; University of Campinas; University of Cantabria; University of Nairobi; University of Oxford; University of Pennsylvania; Vanderbilt University; Washington State University; Washington University in St. Louis; and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The institutions and organizations received these awards through a competitive selection process based on scientific needs and funds available, agency officials said. In addition to these networks, CDC has also invested in short-term global AR innovation research projects, working with investigators to identify new public health solutions to prevent antimicrobial-resistant infections and their spread. Findings from the global antimicrobial resistance innovation projects may later be integrated into the Global AR Lab & Response Network to transform the way the world responds to antimicrobial resistance across the One Health spectrum, the officials said.

This latter bit is particularly significant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, given the likelihood of future pandemics.

Collectively, the new networks, along with additional short-term research projects, will span more than 50 countries worldwide and create programs that focus on several goals, including:

  • Preventing infections in healthcare through proven infection control;
  • Building laboratory capacity to detect antimicrobial-resistant organisms in healthcare, the community, and environment; and,
  • Developing new and innovative ways to detect and respond to such as antimicrobial resistance and COVID-19 more rapidly.

As such, GAIHN and the Global AR Laboratory and Response Network will augment successful efforts nationally launched through CDC’s AR Solutions Initiative in 2016. They will also complement ongoing, effective global work underway by CDC and public health partners worldwide, including the WHO.

Within this remit, these networks and research projects will tackle threats covered in CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2019 and other healthcare-associated infections, officials said. The $22 million awarded to date will, hopefully, only be the beginning, according to Craig.

“These are pennies, quite frankly, that we’re contributing and there needs to be more from us and the rest of the countries of the world,” he said. “We see this as a foundation we can build on.”

And while the focus is on antimicrobial-resistant threats, a rising tide raises all ships. Improving lab networks and disease surveillance, among other components, globally can only help better prepare countries to respond to any public health challenge, Craig said.

“The better we are at addressing the known threats, the better we will be at addressing the unknown threats,” he said. “Every country in the world is an importer and exporter of antimicrobial resistance and infectious disease. We need to make sure we are doing all we can domestically and that we look at how our technical expertise, our capacities, and what we’ve developed here can be used to build up the capacities in other countries.”