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Military Global Health Engagement Contributes to National Security

Image of Military Global Health Engagement Contributes to National Security. U.S. Army Major Andrew Isaacson, a surgeon with the Forward Surgical Section at the Medical Element, Joint Task Force-Bravo, Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, and a Honduran doctor complete a gallbladder removal during a Global Health Engagement in the department of Colón, June 30, 2021. The Department of Defense has evolved its Global Health Engagement encounters through the last several decades focusing more on supporting operational medical capability requirements of international allies and partners. (Photo: U.S. Army Capt. Annabel Monroe/Joint Task Force Bravo)

Over the last few decades, the Department of Defense's global health engagement strategy has evolved to better support the operational medical capability requirements of international allies and partners.

The strategy has evolved from providing assistance and supplies to “more sustained efforts that support building partner nation medical capacity and capabilities,” according to a recent article published in the BMJ Military Health Journal, by experts in the Military Health System.

“Future efforts will increasingly focus on global health security, shared military medical readiness and enhancing interoperability between allies and partners,” according to the journal article.

The DOD policy is to help improve human capabilities and capacities of partner nations so they can:

  • Enhance the readiness of DOD medical forces and sustainably improve the operational skills of partner nation personnel.
  • Improve interoperability in coalition, bilateral, and/or multinational activities.
  • Promote stability and security.
  • Establish or maintain a level of health and a state of preparedness conducive to healthy human and animal populations, in turn bolstering the civilian population’s confidence in partner nation governance.

Global health engagement also allows the DOD and partner nations to build trust and confidence, share information, coordinate activities, maintain influence, and achieve interoperability.

According to the 2022 White House National Security Strategy, the U.S. “must work with other nations to address shared challenges to improve the lives of the American people and those of people around the world. We recognize that we must engage with all countries on global public health, including those with whom we disagree, because pandemics know no borders.”

Pandemic Demonstrated Need for Global Health Engagement

The COVID-19 pandemic saw nations around the globe partner with each other to not only study the virus, but to develop and produce treatments and vaccines—using best practices and local knowledge.

“COVID-19 has shown that transnational challenges can hit with the destructive force of major wars … it exposed the insufficiency of our global health architecture and supply chains, widened inequality, and wiped out many years of development progress,” states the White House strategy. “The pandemic has made clear the need for international leadership and action to create stronger, more equitable, and more resilient health systems—so that we can prevent or prepare for the next pandemic or health emergency before it starts.”

Examples of DOD Global Health Engagement

An example of a DOD GHE program that supports partner nations is the use of embedded health engagement teams, “which decreases the size of U.S. medical teams and place individuals within partner nation medical facilities for longer duration. The smaller U.S. presence results in less disruption of the indigenous health care system than traditional models,” according to the journal article U.S. Department of Defense Global Health Engagement: Supporting Global Health Security, Readiness and Interoperability.

Another important GHE activity that is “critical to global health security” the DOD is often involved with is “networks of overseas infectious disease research laboratories. The work of these laboratories includes bio surveillance, medical countermeasures development, and increased far-forward detection and diagnostic capabilities,” according to the journal article.

According to the 2022 National Defense Strategy, “mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are an enduring strength for the United States and are critical to achieving or National Defense objectives.”

The DOD uses the full wealth of its medical capacity for GHE, by using all its resources, including the military services, the Defense Health Agency, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and other DOD agencies.

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Last Updated: January 18, 2024
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