Bold Thinking at Abt: Global Health Security

Catherine Thompson

Principal Associate, Infectious Disease Technical Segment Lead, HIV Strategic Lead, Portfolio Manager
Health Systems Strenthening | Bio

Whether treating a person or treating a country, we have to be ready from a holistic perspective, says Catherine Thompson. As a public health nurse and HIV/AIDS public health practitioner, Thompson knows first-hand that a robust health system requires more than bed nets and stockpiles of medicines.

Healthy Systems, Healthy People

 “Strong health systems are integrated and adaptable, but that means the logistics work, the management knows what is going on, and the resources are there for where and when you need them,” Thompson says. “Whether it’s HIV, Ebola, or Zika, you have a system in place and a strong series of clinics for people to work with.”

Thompson describes prior work in Zambia, Malawi and Nepal where multiple sectors and approaches were used to strengthen health systems, prevent HIV/AIDS transmission, and reduce childhood morbidity and mortality. “There is never any one response to an epidemic,” says Thompson. “There wasn’t one for HIV, there wasn’t one for Ebola. You have to have the systems, the technology, the people and the social behavior change communications all incorporated.”

Our Interconnectedness Demands Readiness

According to Thompson, there is no time to wait either. With an increasing number of extreme weather events, social conflicts and interconnected options of global travel, preventing the spread of infectious diseases like Zika requires strong, resilient systems. “We are very close now. If something happens in Sierra Leone, you can easily get on a plane and be in America. With changing weather, more floods, higher temperatures, vectors can adapt and vector-borne diseases can spread. We have to be ready because we will see more emerging infections.”
However, Thompson also insists that Americans should not be afraid to travel. “With strong systems in place, it is still possible to travel. You can go to another country and know how to protect yourself,” she says.
The ultimate goal of strengthening international health systems is leaving the area stronger than before the outbreak. “You find dedicated health professionals all over the world working with very little resources,” she says. “Being able to come up with systems that go in place and help these dedicated healthcare workers around the world is really exciting.”

Areas of Expertise

  • Infectious disease
  • Family planning
  • Maternal/child health