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AFHSB's health surveillance program supports Defense Department global health engagement efforts

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Douglass, left, an aerospace medical technician, watches as Liberian health care workers properly put on their personal protective equipment as part response by the Defense Department operation to provide logistics, training and engineering support during the Ebola virus outbreak. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Terrance D. Rhodes) U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Douglass, left, an aerospace medical technician, watches as Liberian health care workers properly put on their personal protective equipment as part response by the Defense Department operation to provide logistics, training and engineering support during the Ebola virus outbreak. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Terrance D. Rhodes)

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Both the U.S. Armed Forces’ operational posture and the emergence and spread of infectious diseases relevant to military operations have evolved in recent decades. Worldwide, people are more mobile and interconnected than ever before. At the same time, land use in the developing world is changing in such a way that long-dormant pathogens have the opportunity to re-emerge and become health problems for a significant proportion of the population again. These conditions threaten not only the health of populations, but also the security and stability of nations around the world.

The Defense Department has long recognized the link between global health and security, and its global health engagement efforts address the intersection of these concerns. Defense Department health agencies are primarily focused on protecting the health of the force and medical readiness, but their global health engagement efforts also address other security priorities for the U.S. government such as helping partner nations build health capacity, combatting global health threats (e.g., emerging infectious diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria), and supporting U.S. government humanitarian assistance and disaster relief initiatives.

The Global Emerging Infections Surveillance (GEIS) section of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB) supports global health engagement by leveraging a network of Defense Department laboratory partners that are positioned in critical locations globally and work with partner nations to combat infectious disease threats. Defense Department laboratories around the world execute coordinated, integrated surveillance efforts to detect and respond to febrile and vector-borne infections, respiratory infections, antimicrobial-resistant and sexually transmitted infections, and enteric infections regardless of the source. These efforts are conducted in more than 70 countries and serve to protect the health of a highly mobile force by informing risk assessments and countermeasure development, providing support to outbreak response efforts when they arise, and supporting operational access and freedom of movement in high-threat areas.

In support of the Defense Health Agency’s combat support efforts, the GEIS network’s ultimate goal is early, accurate detection of emerging infectious disease and rapid communication regarding those that potentially threaten the health of U.S. forces so that preventive measures can be taken to enable operational readiness and mitigate the risk of mission failure. Surveillance efforts are conducted in partnership with partner nation ministries of health and defense, thereby improving their health capacity by enabling rapid identification and response to infectious disease threats to their population and strengthening relationships with key U.S. partners. In this way, the GEIS program supports the U.S. geographic combatant commands (GCCs) in their areas of responsibility, advancing their campaign plans, lines of efforts, and end states. Additionally, by providing direct technical support to GCC-led international scientific coalitions and strategic engagement efforts, GEIS enhances Defense Department global health engagements and advances information sharing with partner nations. These activities ultimately better inform force health protection decision making at the GCCs and enable global health security for partner nations and U.S. government assets abroad.

Throughout December, in celebration of the Global Health Engagement Month, AFHSB will showcase some of the surveillance efforts conducted by GEIS’s laboratory partners around the world. These stories are available on DHA’s Global Health Engagement Spotlight page.

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