About the GHSI

The Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI) is an informal network of countries and organizations that came together shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to exchange information and coordinate practices within the health sector for confronting new threats and risks to global health. Delegations of the GHSI include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Commission. The World Health Organization (WHO) serves as an observer.

The GHSI has contributed significantly to improving global health security. Through coordination with the WHO and other institutions, it has improved prevention and preparedness capacities worldwide through stronger coordinated surveillance, detection, and response efforts.

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, former United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson suggested that countries fighting bioterrorism should meet to share information and coordinate their efforts to improve global health security. On November 7, 2001, Canada’s Minister of Health hosted the first Ministerial Meeting in Ottawa, Canada to discuss global health security. Attending, in addition to Canada, were Ministers/Secretaries/Commissioner of Health and senior health officials from the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States and the World Health Organization.

Ministers called for concerted global action to strengthen public health preparedness and response to the threat of international biological, chemical and radio-nuclear terrorism. They agreed to forge a partnership to address issues of protecting public health and security globally, and to work together in the following areas:

  1. To explore joint cooperation in procuring vaccines and antibiotics.
  2. To engage in a constructive dialogue regarding the development of rapid testing, research in variations of vaccines, and our respective regulatory frameworks for the development of vaccines, and in particular smallpox vaccines.
  3. To further support the World Health Organization’s disease surveillance network and WHO’s efforts to develop a coordinated strategy for disease outbreak containment.
  4. To share emergency preparedness and response plans, including contact lists, and consider joint training and planning.
  5. To agree on a process for international collaboration on risk assessment and management and a common language for risk communication.
  6. To improve linkages among laboratories, including level four laboratories, in those countries which have them.
  7. To undertake close cooperation on preparedness and response to radio-nuclear and chemical events.
  8. To share surveillance data from national public health laboratories and information on real or threatened contamination of food and water supplies along with information on risk mitigation strategies to ensure safe food supplies.

The GHSI was envisaged as an informal group to fill a gap for like-minded countries to address health issues of the day, such as global health security. The Initiative was not intended to replace, overlap or duplicate existing fora or networks.

In December 2002 at their Mexico City Ministerial Meeting, Ministers broadened the scope of the GHSI mandate to include the public health threat posed by pandemic influenza. For more information on Ministerial Meetings and key decisions made, please visit the Ministerial Statements page.

A Global Health Security Action Group (GHSAG) of senior officials was established by Ministers to develop and implement concrete actions to improve global health security. It also serves as a network of rapid communication/reaction in the event of a crisis.

The GHSI’s mandate is to undertake concerted global action to strengthen public health preparedness and response to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats, as well as pandemic influenza.

The GHSI’s goals explain how GHSI addresses intentional, accidental and naturally occurring events.

1. Trusted Forum: Maintaining of forum of technical and policy cooperation to strengthen collective efforts in addressing current and emerging threats.

2. Partnerships: Engaging in cross-sectoral collaboration both domestically and internationally in order to strengthen partnerships.

3. Capacity Building: Promoting awareness and dissemination of outcomes from GHSI activities to ensure our work will benefit global public health capacity building for preparedness and response.

Bringing together senior officials from each delegation, the Global Health Security Action Group (GHSAG) ensures that ministers’ plans and objectives are translated into concrete actions and to serve as a network of rapid communication in the event of a crisis. GHSAG members exchange information regarding global health security issues, discuss policy priorities for the network, review progress on technical-level activities and assist in the preparation of annual Ministerial meetings.

The GHSI Secretariat is responsible for meeting planning, horizontal coordination and integrated priority-setting across the initiative, which includes management of the Coordination and Liaison Committee and the Communicators’ Network.

Current GHSI Technical/Scientific Working Groups are:

  • The Chemical Events Working Group is involved in the risk prioritization of chemicals, the identification of research needs and best practices in the area of medical countermeasures, as well as other cross-hazard projects such as early alerting and reporting.
  • The Biological Working Group is responsible for addressing existing gaps and research and development needs required for GHSI member countries to prepare for and respond to biological threats, excluding pandemic influenza and other respiratory viruses of pandemic potential.
    • The Laboratory Network is involved in promoting quality assurance in diagnostics, flexibility and adaptability of techniques and technologies and addressing issues regarding transport of specimens.
  • The Radio-Nuclear Threats Working Group works in collaboration with other radiation protection and nuclear safety authorities on emergency preparedness, undertakes projects in areas such as countermeasures and laboratory aping, and serves as an informal communication network during emergencies.
  • The Pandemic Influenza Working Group is responsible for sharing and comparing respective national approaches to pandemic preparedness, including vaccine and anti-viral stockpiling and use, surveillance and epidemiology, diagnostics, and public health measures. For example, during the H1N1 Pandemic, the Working Group coordinated the regular exchange of information among GHSI members on the status of the pandemic response.

Future Perspectives

The nature of health security continues to evolve in a number of important ways, giving rise to new challenges. These emerging challenges illustrate the need for governments to remain vigilant in their preparedness and response, and to strengthen efforts for international cooperation. Governments have placed increasing emphasis on preparedness and response strategies that build on an “all hazards” approach. This approach promotes the use of common platforms to address a variety of diverse health threats and risks.

Since its inception in 2001, the value of the GHSI partnership has been demonstrated through timely information exchange and effective networks, resulting in strengthened capacity and decision-making related to CBRN threats and risks. As health security continues to evolve, the GHSI’s preparedness and response activities will remain adaptable to changing threats and to the changing health security landscape.