Department of Defense continues commitment to Global Health Security Agenda
Dr. Karen Guice, acting assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
INfectious disease is a threat that never sleeps. In the past few years, illnesses like Zika virus, Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome, and countless others posed serious challenges for public health officials in many countries. As the world grows ever more connected, these threats continue to multiply and spread across the globe with increasing speed and unpredictability. The need for a decisive, coordinated global response to meet these challenges head on is clear.
That need is the focus of discussion at the high level ministerial meeting of the Global Health Security Agenda (GSHA) being held Oct. 12-14, 2016 in the Netherlands. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Karen Guice is representing the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Military Health System alongside leaders from several other U.S. government agencies. The U.S. delegation joins dignitaries from more than 50 nations, international organizations and non-government partners in gathering to discuss recent progress on the initiative and look ahead to the future.
GHSA is a growing partnership devoted to increasing countries’ capacities to prevent, detect and respond to endemic and emerging infectious disease threats whether naturally occurring, accidental or deliberate. The partnership seeks to achieve its goals through the integration of human and veterinary medicine and environmental science, and the implementation of the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations (IHR). The agenda is a Presidential priority, and DoD joins a whole of government commitment by the United States to partner with 31 countries to advance GHSA objectives during the next five years.
This 2016 meeting encourages all partners to accelerate their progress by identifying near-term actions, including increasing collaboration and partnership across the public health community, non-government organizations and the private sector. DoD supports the U.S. commitment to GHSA through its existing initiatives aligned with the targets of the GHSA engagement activities.
GHSA also addresses issues of biodefense, biosafety and biosecurity and emergency response operations, and force health protection through biosurveillance, diagnostics and medical countermeasures at home and abroad. GHSA oversight and coordination efforts for the Military Health System are led by the Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB) which supports force health protection activities to meet national security objectives.
AFHSB plays a critical role in force health protection and is the central epidemiologic and global health surveillance resource for the U.S. military. The Global Emerging Infections Surveillance Response System (GEIS) works with 23 DoD overseas and U.S.-based laboratories operating a regional network to coordinate a global program of militarily relevant infectious disease surveillance. GEIS surveillance network efforts reach more than 70 countries with engagement organized around emerging infectious disease program areas including antimicrobial resistant, gastrointestinal, febrile and vector-borne, respiratory and sexually transmitted infections.
The mission and objectives of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP) are also closely aligned with the GHSA and many of its activities contribute to the U.S. commitment in partner countries. In 2015 CBEP partnered with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases to train more than 200 participants from countries throughout East Africa in laboratory training to strengthen their countries’ health systems. The effort focused on teaching participants to distinguish a particular disease or condition from others presenting similar clinical features (known as differential diagnosis) such as the vector-borne infections Chikungunya and Dengue.
"Addressing the risk from infectious diseases, whether naturally occurring or intentionally spread, is essential to protecting the American people, protecting our allies and interests and preserving stability around the globe,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work. “Department of Defense support to the Global Health Security Agenda includes working to build capacity of international militaries and civilian partners, research into combating bio-threats and support to crisis response efforts that no other nation can match, as demonstrated by our close cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal and international partners in combating Ebola. We're committed to continued support of these efforts as the Global Health Security Agenda moves forward."