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GEIS funds medical surveillance at military laboratories to assist Combatant Commands

Nazia Rahman, right, manager of the Uniformed Services University’s Neisseria gonorrhoeae (GC) Repository, discusses a poster on the sexually-transmitted infection with U.S. Air Force Major Trinette Flowers-Torres, lead for GEIS’s Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Focus Area, left, and Navy Commander Franca Jones, front, chief of GEIS, examine poster on AMR surveillance. (AFHSB photo by Briana Booker). Nazia Rahman, right, manager of the Uniformed Services University’s Neisseria gonorrhoeae (GC) Repository, discusses a poster on the sexually-transmitted infection with U.S. Air Force Major Trinette Flowers-Torres, lead for GEIS’s Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Focus Area, left, and Navy Commander Franca Jones, front, chief of GEIS, examine poster on AMR surveillance. (AFHSB photo by Briana Booker).

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In Defense Department laboratories around the world, hundreds of military scientists and public health officers conduct infectious disease surveillance in collaboration with partner nations. These surveillance activities capture valuable information that can be used to protect the health and readiness of service members, U.S. allies, and partner nation populations. Their work, sometimes conducted in remote locations, spans from well-known diseases (e.g., influenza) to lesser-known diseases (e.g., leishmaniasis).

At the crux of infectious disease surveillance is the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch’s (AFHSB)  Global Emerging Infections Surveillance (GEIS) Section that funds the majority of surveillance at these military laboratories. In its role as a Combat Support Agency within the Defense Health Agency (DHA), AFHSB is working to get its data into the hands of the U.S. Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs) and their top medical officers more quickly to protect the health and readiness of its service members.

“We can’t underestimate the value of the work being done by GEIS and its laboratory partners in the field,” said AFHSB’s Chief Army Colonel Doug Badzik. “Our main focus is to make sure that we’re supporting the delivery of solutions to the Combatant Commands in everything that we’re doing. We have to think of ourselves as more than just a scientific organization. We do some very unique things. We support the warfighters and their efforts, and there is nobody else who can do that job.”

The role of GEIS as a global program of militarily relevant infectious disease was the central theme when more than 100 public health officials and scientists from the military laboratories gathered recently for a two-day meeting at AFHSB headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.  

U.S. Army Major Elizabeth Wanja, deputy chief of the Department of Entomology at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences laboratory in Thailand, discusses poster of Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB)-funded surveillance projects with Dr. Brett Forshey, lead for Global Emerging Infections Surveillance (GEIS) section Febrile and Vector-Borne Focus Area. (AFHSB photo by Briana Booker) U.S. Army Major Elizabeth Wanja, deputy chief of the Department of Entomology at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences laboratory in Thailand, discusses poster of Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB)-funded surveillance projects with Dr. Brett Forshey, lead for Global Emerging Infections Surveillance (GEIS) section Febrile and Vector-Borne Focus Area. (AFHSB photo by Briana Booker)

Colonel Badzik commended recent changes that GEIS has made to its proposal process so that funded surveillance projects align with theater campaign plans of the GCCs “to try and understand what the warfighters really need, making sure that we’re putting out good science and making sure it can be translated into action by the Combatant Commands.”

“What I want the laboratories to understand is that we’re translating the work that they are doing very rapidly into information that goes into decision making of the Combatant Commands to really affect force health protection,” Badzik said.

The meeting also provided participants from the laboratories updates on the surveillance projects that are being conducted in four key disease focus areas: antimicrobial resistance, enteric infections, febrile and vector-borne infections, and respiratory infections. Through updates, those working in the laboratories could identify opportunities where they could collaborate on projects. In 2017, GEIS provided $58 million in funding to 23 Department of Defense laboratories.

By improving its disease surveillance work, AFHSB will continue to play a pivotal role in helping to make sure U.S. Armed Forces are healthy and ready to serve wherever they’re deployed, said Navy Rear Admiral Colin G. Chinn, the Joint Staff Surgeon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a keynote address at the meeting.

“It’s a very complex world with complex issues,” Rear Admiral Chinn said. “Our conventional forces have to adjust to this new situation. Our medical forces have to adjust to this situation. My main job is to provide the best medical advice to the Chairman. Those working in the laboratories in the U.S. and overseas are at the tip of the spear so that the Combatant Commands have the healthy forces necessary for their missions.”

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