Health Security and the State of the Union

The annual State of the Union Address is a chance for the President to present his domestic and foreign policy priorities. Often, the President will reflect on the most difficult challenges facing the country. Last night was no different. In his speech, President Obama took a moment to acknowledge the Americans who are responding to Ebola in West Africa, an epidemic that appears to be moving from apocalyptic to “merely” severe.

Because the State of the Union reflects Presidential priorities, even a mention carries a lot of weight. Below are the best examples of where health security issues have been mentioned in the State of the Union during the Obama presidency.  

2015 - “In West Africa, our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola — saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease. I couldn’t be prouder of them, and I thank this Congress for your bipartisan support of their efforts. But the job is not yet done — and the world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.”

2014 – “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.”

2013 –  “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it’s too late.”

2010 – “…we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bioterrorism or an infectious disease -– a plan that will counter threats at home and strengthen public health abroad.”

These excerpts remind us that health security issues occur frequently, ranging from emerging infectious disease epidemics, natural disasters, and the use of WMD, and often necessitate a response by the President of the United States. That trend is not likely to change any time soon, which speaks to the need for continued awareness of the myriad threats and continued investment in America’s preparedness and response infrastructure.