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Leaders take world view to enhance health readiness

Army Maj. Elizabeth Polfer (left), an orthopedic surgeon at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Texas, performs hand surgery with her Honduran counterpart in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, during a Regional Health Command-Central Global Health Engagement Medical Readiness Training Exercise. (U.S. Army photo by Maria Pinel) Army Maj. Elizabeth Polfer (left), an orthopedic surgeon at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Texas, performs hand surgery with her Honduran counterpart in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, during a Regional Health Command-Central Global Health Engagement Medical Readiness Training Exercise. (U.S. Army photo by Maria Pinel)

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Increasingly, ensuring a medically ready force and a ready medical force requires thinking and acting globally, Defense Health Agency leaders say. 

“The bottom line is that worldwide health security is an essential part of U.S. national security,” said Tom McCaffery, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. “Global health engagements reduce risks to our own armed forces while fostering the mission capability of our partner nations’ forces. Together, we can continue working effectively to defend global interests.”

Dr. Terry Adirim, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Services Policy and Oversight, touched on global health engagements in November during a session at AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals. Adirim highlighted U.S. military medical partnerships with Uganda on HIV education and health promotion; and with France, which will manufacture freeze-dried plasma for use by U.S. armed forces.

"Global health threats are destabilizing," she said, "and global health activities yield dividends." 

Here's a look at a few Department of Defense global health engagements for 2018:

The Air Force International Health Specialist Program, comprised of physicians, dentists, nurses, industrial hygienists, and other medical professionals, focuses on building medical capabilities of partner nations during peacetime, said Air Force Col. Wesley Palmer, a physician and the program director. From disaster response to medical logistics, IHS members use their skills to meet the specific needs in their assigned region.

Health care professionals from military treatment facilities under Regional Health Command-Pacific partnered with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Army Pacific to support blood safety efforts in Cambodia. The U.S. team assisted in improving the collection, manufacturing, and storage of blood products and opened two blood donor centers.

The hospital ship USNS Comfort embarked on an 11-week medical assistance mission to Central and South America as part of the U.S. Southern Command's Enduring Promise initiative. The U.S. medical team worked with partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras to help relieve pressure on host nation medical systems. The mission marked the sixth time the hospital ship has provided medical assistance in the region. During the past decade, the Comfort has visited 18 nations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, working with host-nation and civilian partners to provide medical treatment to nearly 390,000 people.

A three-person dental team from Regional Health Command-Pacific traveled to the Republic of Palau to work with local counterparts to enhance the operational and deployment readiness skills for the dental team. Palau coordinated and funded the misson, the first such mission in four years.

U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command global health engagement advisers trained soldiers in Niger during a combat casualty care exercise. Comprised of active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve airmen, the team was part of Exercise Flintlock 2018.

Thirteen Navy Medicine trauma members completed an eight-week medical readiness exchange program with Vietnam. An emergency room physician, critical care physician, orthopedic surgeon, anesthesiologist, critical care nurse, emergency room nurse, and surgical technicians worked alongside their Vietnamese counterparts to provide medical care and share trauma-management skills. They participated in over 300 surgical cases and assisted in the care of over 550 complex emergency room and intensive-care patients, among other accomplishments. 

“True operational readiness requires partnership the world over,” said Capt. Carlos Williams, director of the Navy Office of Global Health Engagement. “The key to readiness is preparation, and preparation requires that team members are ready to face not only the challenges we know, but be resilient and agile to face the ones we do not.” 

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