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Strengthening capabilities, fostering partnership top priorities at global health summit

Admiral Tim Ziemer, head of U.S. delegation, giving remarks at the Global Health Security Agenda Ministerial Meeting in Kampala, Uganda. Admiral Tim Ziemer, head of U.S. delegation, giving remarks at the Global Health Security Agenda Ministerial Meeting in Kampala, Uganda.

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This week, hundreds of leaders representing partner nations, international organizations, and non-governmental stakeholders gathered in Kampala, Uganda, for the fourth annual High Level Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) ministerial meeting. The meeting represents a growing partnership of more than 60 nations working to build capacity to help create a world safe from infectious disease threats and elevate global health security as a national and global priority.

As global health threats intensify, so do the Department of Defense’s efforts to combat them with partner nations. In past years, the world has seen the devastating effects of infectious disease outbreaks, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberately released. Because these diseases can rapidly become national security risks, it’s crucial for the DoD to work with governments, academia, and non-governmental organizations across the world. 

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffery (center), represented the DoD and participated in the first-ever defense panel at a GHSA Ministerial.Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffery (center), represented the DoD and participated in the first-ever defense panel at a GHSA Ministerial.

“Today, we face a pivotal moment where, for each of us, global health security is an essential part of our national security,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffery, who represented the DoD and participated in the first-ever defense panel at a GHSA Ministerial. Leaders discussed the need for defense and security sectors to play a role in addressing global health threats.

The panel highlighted key lessons learned and examples of defense and security sectors working collaboratively to combat global health threats. McCaffery emphasized the specialty skills the military and security sector bring to the table, including health care access and distribution. Other essential specialties include outbreak detection and response, and the military’s unique experience with logistics, command and control, and complex contingency operations learned through years of operating in austere environments.

The U.S. delegation, led by retired Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense at the National Security Council, included representatives from the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Treasury, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leaders across GHSA partner nations, international organizations, and nongovernmental stakeholders evaluated progress made so far, fine-tuned the work and priorities ahead, and addressed barriers to achieving their collective goals.    

Health is integral to the force readiness of partner nations, but outbreaks in any country can degrade operational readiness. As recent events such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the emergence of Zika, MERS, and avian and pandemic influenza demonstrate, global health threats can destabilize societies and undermine public order, leaving nations vulnerable to terrorism and other forms of conflict.  The economic costs alone are staggering: $2.2. billion in GDP was lost in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in 2015, threatening not only macroeconomic stability but also food security, human capital development, and private sector growth.

 “Global health engagement is a great avenue for partnership across the U.S. government ad among other health and security institutions around the world,” states Dr. David Smith, acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. 

DoD’s global health engagement activities with partner nations align with the GHSA agenda, including developing military medical capabilities of partner nations and building disaster preparedness and response capabilities, performing important health research and development, and monitoring global health threats.

McCaffery reiterated DoD’s commitment to strengthening responses to global health threats and its support for the Global Health Security Agenda.

“We encourage defense sectors to use the GHSA framework to increase collaboration and to bring together our unique assets across all sectors to detect and defeat disease at the earliest possible moment,” said McCaffery. 

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