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Our History

The Department of Defense (DoD) has been engaged in issues of global health for well over a century. This engagement has been shaped, first and foremost, by our commitment to force health protection and medical readiness. As American Service members deployed to increasingly exotic locales in the early 1900s, they were confronted with deadly infectious diseases like yellow fever, malaria, and typhoid fever. DoD investment in medical research and development to counter the threat of these diseases led to several notable successes, including prevention campaigns for malaria and yellow fever during the construction of the Panama canal, as well as an early vaccine for typhoid.

Over time, DoD’s approach to global health engagement has expanded. At the conclusion of the Second World War, the department established its first overseas laboratory on the island of Guam, which was later followed by additional labs in Egypt, Thailand, Kenya, Peru, and Georgia. These laboratories, each of which also conducts activities in surrounding countries, became the backbone of DoD’s global network of biomedical research and surveillance on biological threats, as well as important shared spaces for DoD’s interagency partners. They have also served as focal points for research cooperation with partner nations, such as in an Army vaccine trial for HIV/AIDS conducted with the Thai government and military.

Global health engagement has also been defined by an increasing commitment to building and supporting the health system capacities of partner nations, as a reflection of the reality that healthy partner nations can better contribute to global stability and security. Medical Civil Action Programs (MEDCAPs), in which military medical professionals provide limited medical treatment to local populations, were a significant strategic initiative during the Vietnam War. More recently, global health activities have focused on working with host nation health  professionals to result in sustainable improvements to local health systems.  Efforts to develop health infrastructure and share knowledge have featured prominently in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

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