Partnerships, collaboration essential in global fight against health threats
Dr. David Smith (second from the right) was part of a panel discussing the national security implications of epidemics during amfAR’s recent conference in Washington, D.C. Other panelists included, from left to right, Rear Adm. Anne Schuchat, acting director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Ron Klain, former White House Ebola response coordinator and executive vice president, Revolution, LLC; Dr. Smith; Ambassador James Glassman, former undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State; and moderator Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor, PBS Newshour.
As service members deploy and operate around the world, the ability to protect the troops from exposure to health threats is critical to the overall mission. In the fight against infectious diseases, the Department of Defense has interagency partnerships, including with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to target these diseases.
These partnerships have contributed to numerous vaccines, aimed at such threats as Zika and Human Immunodeficiency Virus, along with efforts to decrease risk for disease. Dr. Susan Blumenthal, a retired rear admiral and former U.S. assistant surgeon general, said the HIV infection rate has fallen by 18 percent in the United States over the last decade.
“How does that happen? It’s happened because of the people in this room, who work together with partners across America and the world to develop and implement a roadmap to end AIDs,” said Blumenthal, speaking at a recent amfAR conference in Washington, D.C. Blumenthal is currently serving as the senior policy and medical adviser for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.
This kind of collaboration has helped the Department of Defense establish strategies using data-driven measures to address health epidemics that affect national security. Dr. David Smith, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Readiness Policy & Oversight performing the duties of the assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, stressed the connection between global health threats and national security while speaking at the same conference.
“We put a major investment in research and development in this area because of the protection piece of it, but under the precept of prevent, protect, and respond,” said Smith, adding that major global health issues remain a threat to national and international security.
The U.S. Military HIV Research Program contributes expertise, surveillance, and vaccine development in response to global health threats. DoD has supported the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, in the global fight against HIV and AIDS since 2003.
DoD involvement in the fight against epidemics is extensive, especially in areas affected by the most devastating diseases and the instability that follows. Collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, academic institutions, and other governments proves vital to the ongoing work against infectious diseases. DoD continues to train health workers and helps build capability in partner nations, while providing HIV prevention, care, and treatment to military personnel, said Smith.
Established in 1986, the U.S. Military HIV Research Program serves as a leader in HIV acute infection and cure research. It provides prevention, care, and treatment to military personnel while providing surveillance and threat assessment. The military’s efforts against HIV have also been leveraged to fight against other threats, including Ebola and Zika. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research moved Zika vaccine development forward, from concept to human clinical trials in less than 10 months, with the help of HIV program researchers.
“We have a rich national resource of laboratories around the world, including [in] South America, Africa, and Asia,” said Smith, stressing the important research and surveillance they conduct to help prevent infectious diseases around the world. “It’s important to support the global health security agenda and the great partnerships that we … want to sustain and further develop around the world.”
For more information, visit the U.S. Military HIV Research Program website.