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Global Military Health Summit Emphasizes Partnership and Collaboration

Image of Dr. David Smith, the U.S. Department of Defense deputy assistant secretary for force health protection and readiness, delivered a keynote address on Sept. 26, 2023, at the Indo-Pacific Military Health Exchange 2023 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Smith highlighted examples of U.S. DOD global health engagement as a “powerful catalyst for building robust partnerships” and discussed current and future health security threats. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Spc. 1st Class Timothy Hughes). Dr. David Smith, the U.S. Department of Defense deputy assistant secretary for force health protection and readiness, delivered a keynote address on Sept. 26, 2023, at the Indo-Pacific Military Health Exchange 2023 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Smith highlighted examples of U.S. DOD global health engagement as a “powerful catalyst for building robust partnerships” and discussed current and future health security threats. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Spc. 1st Class Timothy Hughes)

Global health security is national security, and partnerships are critical in making the world more secure for everyone, said a senior Military Health System official.

"When collaboration occurs between nations and militaries globally, we can improve our handling of natural and man-made disasters and bring them under control more effectively to better manage resources," said Dr. David Smith, the U.S. Department of Defense deputy assistant secretary of defense for force protection and readiness. "And, most importantly, save lives."

Smith emphasized international partnerships and collaboration during his keynote address at the Indo-Pacific Military Health Exchange, Sept. 26-29, 2023, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Malaysian Armed Forces Medical Service co-hosted the event.

Smith highlighted U.S. DOD global health engagement efforts as a “powerful catalyst for building robust partnerships” and discussed current and future health security threats.

IPMHE 2023 brought together more than 500 representatives from 24 countries, including more than 150 U.S. delegates, to discuss global health engagement lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and cooperation during current and emerging global health security threats.

Dr. Lester Martínez-López, the DOD’s assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, attended the summit as the senior U.S. official present and provided the program’s welcome and closing remarks, along with U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland, the director of the Defense Health Agency.

Dr. Martínez-López at the 2023 Indo-Pacific Military Health ExchangeU.S. Army Lt. Col. Ashley Urick, 502nd Field Hospital commander of the 549th U.S. Army Hospital Center in South Korea, converses with Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Lester Martínez-López, at the Indo-Pacific Military Health Exchange from Sept. 26–29, 2023, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (DOD photo by U.S. Army Spc. 1st Class Timothy Hughes)

Smith pointed to the success of the Armed Forces Research Institute of the Medical Sciences, hosted with Thailand, as an example of successful global health collaboration.
The 60-year-old partnership in Thailand and Cambodia has successfully worked on antimalarial drugs, as well as vaccines for hepatitis, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, and RV144, the only partially effective HIV vaccine.

Since 1946, DOD has partnered with agencies from other countries to jointly operate 20 laboratories researching infectious diseases of common interest, and, in fiscal 2023,
funded 111 projects in more than 100 countries.

Collaboration Key to Mitigating Health Security Threats

“Engagement in global health builds and sustains partner and ally nation relationships,” Smith said. “It serves as a mechanism to enhance information-sharing, interoperability, and joint exercises to enhance health capabilities and public health system networks with partners across the world.”

Collaboration is key, he said, adding, “Healthy, capable partners are one of the most effective ways to mitigate health security threats.”

“Security threats from health catastrophes are real; the spillover effects from breakdowns in health systems can be harder to contain than armed conflicts themselves,” Smith said.

He pointed to examples of the intersection between global health and security, and the “increasingly relevant value of military-civilian collaboration on a global scale” because infectious diseases, extreme weather, and natural disasters “have and can cause severe disruption and instability worldwide.”

Martínez on Need for Being ‘Interconnected’

Martínez, in his closing remarks, reinforced the critical need for global cooperation.

“If we gained nothing else, it was the certain knowledge that we are all interconnected, and that we can best overcome current and future health challenges by collaboration and open sharing of information,” he said.

“Countering global health security threats is enhanced by long-lasting relationships, such as those cultivated over the past four days. Each one of us gathered here has a vested interest in the strength of these vital connections and must commit to maintaining enduring partnerships and collaboration,” Martínez emphasized.

“We can’t deny that we have to work to do to accomplish higher levels of interoperability and global health security, but being among you this week has reinforced my confidence that together, we have what it takes to meet this formidable challenge,” he said. The Kuala Lumpur event was the first gathering of the IPMHE since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Martínez said “made this experience even better.”

Indo-Pacific Health Security Alliance and IPMHE

The new Indo-Pacific Health Security Alliance between the U.S. and Australia is part of the goals of IPMHE.

“The [Indo-Pacific Health Security Alliance] aims to formalize global health security partnerships, institutionalize ongoing lines of effort, and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific through increased multisectoral global health security preparedness,” according to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

It will do this by creating a sustainable framework for continuous engagement and consolidate existing efforts to strengthen multi-sectoral, whole-of-society, outbreak preparedness, and response capabilities, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said.

In doing so, the IPHSA will provide a forum for stakeholders across the Indo-Pacific to facilitate civil-military cooperation in health, build trust, and identify gaps, according to its charter.

IPMHE’s primary goal is sharing experiences and knowledge about health security risks in military medicine and health care, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, marine and aviation medicine emergencies, and others, such as the impact of climate change. IPMHE was created in 2015 as a joint exchange and successor to several other global exchange efforts.

Japan will co-host the next IPMHE in 2025.

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