In it together: Fighting global health threats takes partnerships
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffery spoke at the 2018 Medical Support Operations Conference in London, delivering remarks on the defense sector's role in advancing the Global Health Security Agenda. A partnership of more than 60 nations, the Global Health Security Agenda, or GHSA, brings together the unique roles of governments, industry, NGOs, academia, and international institutions to combat infectious disease threats.
FALLS CHURCH, Va. — As communities around the world continue to face health threats, global partnerships have growing responsibilities to battle global health threats. Military Health System leadership remains committed to advancing the Global Health Security Agenda, recognizing the need for collaboration across sectors, governments, and areas of expertise.
“We are up against a perilous rise in infectious disease outbreaks threatening the health and safety of our citizens, as well as threatening geopolitical stability,” said Thomas McCaffery, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs while speaking at the 2018 Medical Support Operations Conference in London.
While global health threats are intensifying, collaborative efforts to combat them continue to grow. Through the Global Health Security Agenda, also known as GHSA, the Department of Defense is committed to working to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats, McCaffery assured. GHSA-supported health activities, such as biosurveillance and coordinated response plans, prevented the spread of 25 major outbreaks in 17 countries in 2017.
The DoD worked with the Uganda Ministry of Health to help stop an outbreak of Marburg virus in October. Medical countermeasures were developed and technical assistance was provided to the Uganda National Task Force and Rapid-Response Teams. Through a partnership with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute last year, DoD also helped identify and contain an outbreak of Anthrax. The department provided diagnostic and protective equipment, and helped improve detection and response capabilities to quickly contain the outbreak.
In addition, the Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program partners with militaries from 57 countries to help lower the incidence of HIV and AIDS. This was done by training health care workers, equipping laboratories, promoting health education, and providing training against stigma and discrimination. Overall, HIV testing and counseling services were provided to more than 1.1 million people last year, while 139,000 individuals received antiretroviral therapy. The program also reached 6,000 HIV-positive pregnant women with life-saving treatment to reduce mother-to-child transmission.
“[O]ur ability to work in a concerted global effort across … nations, the private sector, academia, and non-governmental organizations is not just smart leadership. It’s a strategic, moral imperative,” said McCaffery, stressing the impact of health threats on economic stability, food security, development, and private-sector growth.
The connection between global health security and national security is evident in bioterrorism, readiness, and stability, McCaffery said. The U.S. capacity to prevent, accurately detect, and rapidly respond to natural outbreaks is critical to address bioterrorism threats, he added.
McCaffery’s visit reinforces the Department of Defense’s role in encouraging others to advance global health security, which provides a framework for the U.S. and its partner nations to work together to combat health concerns. He stressed that global health risks can pose major threats to citizens at home and abroad by destabilizing communities, leaving nations vulnerable to terrorism and conflict, and undermining public order if left unchecked.
“The bottom line is that defense and security sectors have a real opportunity to use the GHSA framework to increase collaboration and converge our unique assets across all sectors to detect and defeat disease at the earliest possible moment,” said McCaffery.
The first defense-focused panel at the GHSA High-level Ministerial was held in November. Attendees included McCaffery, the Minister of Health of Uganda, and the Deputy Minister of Health of Liberia, as well as panelists from the United Kingdom and Finland. Building on this momentum, defense and security sectors are becoming more engaged in the dialogue around how to leverage their role in reducing global health threats.
This week, the Medical Support Operations Conference focuses on areas where national, charitable, and commercial institutions may be able to cooperate more effectively to deliver greater capability more efficiently to reset community and national health security.
“Global health security is an essential part of our national security,” said McCaffery, stressing the defense sector’s role in advancing the GHSA. “We have come a long way in combatting global health threats, but we’ve got more work to do. And we all have a role to play in using the GHSA framework to increase collaboration, and to unite assets across all sectors to detect and defeat disease at the earliest possible moment.”