Center for Global Health Science and Security Launch

Georgetown University Medical Center announces the launch of the Center for Global Health Science and Security (GHSS) to conduct research to help build sustainable capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to public health emergencies worldwide. The GHSS is led by Rebecca Katz, PhD, MPH, and Julie Fischer, PhD.

GHSS researchers explore the growing demands on the world’s public health infrastructure, from policies intended to contain transnational disease threats to the economic benefits of promoting health in the world’s poorest nations, and the changing roles for health in domestic and international security and diplomacy.

“Many faculty members at our medical center have long been engaged in work around the world to further the health of the most vulnerable impacted by limited by resources,  infrastructure or legal protections,” said Edward B. Healton, MD, MPH, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the Georgetown School of Medicine. “Global health has been affirmed as one of our top priority areas and the addition of Professors Katz and Fischer and the Global Health Science and Security Center reinforces our commitment to this critical area of research and education.”

“We work with partners across the U.S. government, international organizations, and ministries of health, agriculture and defense around the world to understand how leaders define, develop, and sustain preparedness for public health emergencies,” explains Katz. “We then translate this information in ways that help decision makers build sustainable capacities to detect and respond to emerging public health threats.”

Fischer adds that their research “supports the World Health Organization and U.S. government agencies in the development of tools to support capacity building for disease detection and response.”

Focus areas of the GHSS include:

  • providing policy analysis and technical support related to the Global Health Security Agenda;
  • creating tools and building capacities for the global implementation of the International Health Regulations;
  • developing content and training foreign affairs experts and health and research professionals in global health diplomacy;
  • evaluating capacities and capabilities for timely, accurate, and safe laboratory testing for priority diseases;
  • evaluating infrastructure, resources, and legislation/policies for and vulnerabilities in national preparedness and response capabilities, including social distancing measures;
  • building capacity through policy development and training in areas related to public health emergency management and One Health disease surveillance; and
  • strengthening public health preparedness by developing content and training materials for multi-sectoral engagement in the response to biological threats.

Katz, Fischer and their team were recruited to Georgetown earlier this summer from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

Katz is a tenured associate professor in the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) department of international health.  Fischer, a microbiologist, and research team member Erin Sorrell, PhD, MSc, a virologist, join the department of microbiology and immunology. Claire Standley, PhD, MSc, a disease ecologist, joins Katz in the department of international health at NHS.  Research assistant Andrea Vaught and research associate Nina Kanakarajavelu. MA, MPH, also join the team at Georgetown.

For more than a decade, Katz and Fischer have worked to help design systems and implement policies to facilitate a coordinated response to potential microbial outbreaks and pandemics in 22 countries — many low resourced and developing.

In their work, as Katz explains, “We ask and answer questions like, ‘What kind of systems do you need in place to have countries working together. How do you think about the types of capacity that is going to be required at the municipality level? What does this mean for travel and trade? Are there international agreements that should be in place to facilitate mitigation and response, and how do countries implement the ones that are already in place?’”

These are the challenges that can lead to advances, or breaks, in broader international diplomacy, Fischer adds.

“Ours is policy work. We analyze policies and practices used throughout the world to prevent, detect and respond to emerging health threats before they become international crises,” Katz says.

“The better a country’s public health systems are, the sooner it can recognize that something abnormal is happening, the faster they can do something about it — and the more lives they are able to save,” she says. 

With the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations as a guiding framework and with federal funding, Katz, Fischer and their team have completed aspects of this work in Guinea, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Algeria, Oman, Turkey, Cambodia, Lao, Malaysia, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.