If the Ebola crisis which began in 2013 was a “black swan” in terms of recent epidemics, it focused attention around the world on emerging infectious diseases, and the way biological threats, whether from outbreaks, accidents or attacks have increased due to globalization and technological innovation. The Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service has now expanded its focus on the issue of global pandemics with the appointment of Dr. Gerald W. Parker as director of the Institute’s Biosecurity and Pandemic Policy Program.
Parker also serves as Campus Director for Global One Health for Texas A&M University, Associate Dean for Global Health in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and as a strategic advisor for the Institute for Infectious Diseases in Agrilife Research. A U.S. Army veteran, Parker has a 36-year record of military and civilian experience, including his service as deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for chemical and biological defense, and as the principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services where he led efforts to prepare for and respond to public health and medical emergencies.
Parker noted that the Ebola outbreak was likely just days from becoming a pandemic, and a true Black Swan incident, and that a Texas A&M System-wide approach is a new and effective way for our faculty and students to contribute to solving global security problems posed by high impact infectious diseases and other public health crises. Policy leaders and relevant international organizations have recognized that the future of global health security lies within the nexus of human, animal and ecosystem health, and that a one health approach is an essential component to help solve this global health challenge.
“Working with our partners in the A&M System, the Bush School will provide the link between scientific research and public policy,” Parker said. “This linkage will allow researchers to study the science of infectious diseases and then relate those to government and international policy discussions on biosecurity, pandemics and global security.”
He noted A&M’s long tradition of public service and the University’s potential to make significant contributions from research to policy in support of global health security
“With scientists and policy experts working together, we have opportunities to help create a better future for millions around the world, not only through better infectious disease prevention, detection and response initiatives, but also in nutrition, food security and humanitarian development to mitigate conflict and high impact infectious disease outbreaks at their source. My role is to support the scientists, students and policy makers within our university who share this vision, as well as to establish Texas A&M as a premier university for global health and global health security research and policy development,” Parker said.
Parker also cited Scowcroft Institute Director Andrew Natsios experience in worldwide health crises as another plus in the science/policy nexus. Natsios was formerly the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) where he managed reconstruction programs in the Middle East and led the agency’s responses to all types of natural disasters, including disease outbreaks. The Institute’s Biosecurity and Pandemic Policy Program has become a recognized player on the pandemic preparedness policy stage, and will soon become a national thought leader on global health security and biosecurity.
Natsios cited A&M’s world-class programs in veterinary medicine, agriculture, engineering and the health sciences as keys to the Bush School’s ability to develop policy responses to worldwide pandemic preparedness.
” Experts in these disciplines already have experience working together, and the formal linkage with the Bush School will enable us to propose better strategies to prevent outbreaks from becoming pandemics, and how to better respond to pandemics and other world health crises,” Natsios said.
Parker concurred: “With Professor Natsios’ leadership we have the opportunity to get into the study of high impact infectious disease and translate our experience in dealing with them to future generations,” he said. Parker also plans to develop an educational curriculum that will offer future policy leaders an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the global biosecurity challenges of the 21st century.
Both Parker and Natsios co-hosted a recent program held at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. entitled “Black Swans of Pandemic Disease,” which focused on humanitarian response planning and supply chain requirements. The workshop concluded that the United States and the global community are not prepared for a pandemic, and that the United States must remain globally invested in pandemic preparedness and global health, underscoring the importance of the new biosecurity initiative at the Bush School.
The Institute will soon release a policy white paper, “The Growing Threats of Pandemics, Enhancing Domestic and International Biosecurity” that identifies gaps and policy recommendations, and will hold the third of its series of conferences on global pandemics on October 16-17, 2017.