Armed Forces Support for Global Health

Today, people are more mobile and interconnected than ever before. At the same time, land use in the developing world is changing so that long-dormant pathogens can re-emerge and become health problems for a significant proportion of the world population. These conditions threaten not only the health of populations but also the security and stability of nations around the world.

The Defense Department primarily focuses on protecting the health of the armed forces and provides for medical readiness. However, global health efforts also need to help partner nations build health capacity, combat global health threats such as emerging infectious diseases and antibiotic–resistant bacteria, plus support disaster relief.

The Global Emerging Infections Surveillance (GEIS) system within the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB) works with a network of Defense Department laboratory partners in critical locations worldwide plus helps partner nations combat infectious disease threats.

GEIS is able to coordinate surveillance efforts conducted through DOD’s overseas medical research and development laboratories. The goal is to conduct surveillance and outbreak responses in 70 countries, expand surveillance and epidemiology training, and support research, innovation, and integration initiatives related to drug and diagnostic tool development.

There are several ongoing Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAI) projects. The Navy through several research units conducts HAI surveillance in Egypt, Jordan, and Peru, and for the Armed Forces Research Institute for the Medical Sciences located in Bangkok in Thailand.

Thailand is also looking to expand antimicrobial resistant organism surveillance in the Pacific region. A major undertaking of the HAI project will be to provide for data collection to ensure that information can be compared globally.

GEIS is working as a partner with the “Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s Multidrug Resistant Organism Repository and Surveillance Network” (WRAIR-MRSN). The plan is to confirm the identification of an organism, do antibiotic susceptibility testing, do rapid molecular screening for the most worrisome pathogens, plus advance analyses for genetic relatedness.

The U.S. Army Medical Research Unit in Kenya is conducting antimicrobial resistance surveillance in HAI agents in both the Ugandan civilian and military populations. Although the surveillance of clinically relevant bacteria is taking place in Uganda, this research is contributing to global efforts to provide for resistance containment strategies.

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