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How the military stays ready during disease outbreaks

Headshot of Dr. Sanchez Dr. Toti Sanchez is a senior scientist and deputy chief at Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch

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Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Coronavirus

A Q & A with Dr. Jose L. (Toti) Sanchez, Senior Scientist & Deputy Chief, AFHSB


What is your focus area?

A major component of my work is to ensure that major health surveillance program plans and initiatives are current and reflect alignment with the Defense Health Agency’s Strategic Plan. Under the guidance of AFHSB’s Chief, I also help to build strong scientific and collaborative relationships within the Public Health Directorate.

How do you monitor disease outbreaks?

I spend a significant amount of time monitoring the many peer-reviewed, governmental and international association reports. I also analyze the disease outbreak reports and coordinate data gathering and report generation from AFHSB’s Global Emerging Infections Surveillance, Epidemiology and Analysis), and Integrated Biosurveillance  sections.

In my role as Senior Scientist at AFHSB, I serve on the Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program Operational Steering Committee, a “think-tank” committee of experts who provide guidance on military-relevant research efforts in support of the U.S. military’s force health protection needs. I also work as an instructor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. I ensure students and residents in public health learn the basic skills of outbreak investigation, associated surveillance, and research initiatives.

How do you support AFHSB's response to COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an immense workload on our AFHSB staff to produce analyses and reports for DHA leadership, senior DoD officials, the Secretary of Defense, and respond to questions from Congressional officials. In my role as Deputy Chief, AFHSB, I ensure that reports, documents and COVID-19 related policy reviews are accurate and produced in a timely fashion from AFHSB’s three sections. Since February 2020, I’ve reviewed and provided input to nearly 70 executive summaries , several information and position papers, and at least 20 weekly surveillance summaries addressing COVID-19 issues.

Where have you traveled in this role?

My travel is mainly limited to the National Capital Region. I’ve participated in tabletop drills such as an interagency simulation for Crimson Contagion, a response to a severe influenza pandemic. I’ve also served as a representative to the Defense Health Board to evaluate health surveillance matters such as COVID-19 and respiratory infections in support of DHA’s Combat Support Agency mission.

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The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB) is the central epidemiologic resource for the U.S. Armed Forces, conducting medical surveillance to protect those who serve our nation in uniform and allies who are critical to our national security interests. AFHSB provides timely, relevant, actionable and comprehensive health surveillance information to promote, maintain, and enhance the health of military and military-associated populations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

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