Published: March 2017
The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $3.5 million over three years to the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security (GHSS) to provide general support. GHSS, housed at Georgetown University Medical Center, conducts research to help build sustainable capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to public health emergencies worldwide. It comprises a team of four experts and academic researchers in biosecurity and pandemic preparedness along with several support staff. GHSS plans to use this grant to support policy-oriented academic research focused on improving U.S. and international biosecurity and pandemic preparedness policy. It plans to spend the majority of the grant funding on three main activities:
- Improving the capacity of the international community to respond to biological attacks.
- Researching international best practices for building laboratory capacity within national-level biosurveillance systems. International donors have invested a large amount of money to build national systems for rapid detection of infectious disease outbreaks, but these efforts have been fragmented and, in our view, have not resulted in ideal systems. We believe that this is due to a) a lack of comprehensive evidence on how to build fast and effective biosurveillance systems, and b) the tendency of individual donors to invest in projects that fit narrow programmatic objectives.
- Conducting a review and financial audit of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), an international effort that is organizing hundreds of millions of dollars in donor funding to build capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. GHSA discussions have been primarily led by governments, and we are not aware of any independent analyses of the process and of how funds are being used.
GHSS plans to use most of the remaining funds on one or more additional projects that will be chosen in consultation with the Open Philanthropy Project; some to research new project ideas; and a small amount to cover minor infrastructure improvements.
We decided to recommend this grant for several reasons:
- The three main activities listed above are in line with Open Philanthropy Project priorities for our work on biosecurity and pandemic preparedness.
- The co-leaders of GHSS, Rebecca Katz and Julie Fischer, are internationally recognized experts on the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations and global health security capacity building. Given their experience, skills, and connections, we expect that they will enable GHSS to deliver high-quality results on the three main projects and to develop additional projects that are consistent with Open Philanthropy Project goals.
- This grant will free up GHSS staff time to do research on biosecurity and pandemic preparedness issues that are important to us. (We expect that this grant will free up slightly over half of core staff time.) GHSS is currently funded primarily by the U.S. government via project-specific contracts and grants for international training and capacity building. We believe that our grant will enable GHSS to pursue its goal of shifting its focus to big-picture, policy-oriented research, which we think will be a more effective way for it to contribute to the biosecurity and pandemic preparedness field.
- Support for GHSS will help to build capacity for biosecurity and pandemic preparedness analysis and advocacy outside of government, which is one of our priorities for this field.
- Few other centers research similar topics, and to our knowledge, most of them do little to no work on biosecurity.
To investigate this grant, we had several phone conversations with GHSS leadership and reviewed materials they shared, including project proposals, budgets, and information about the track record of core staff.