The AFRICOM Office of the Command Surgeon invited various U.S. agencies to participate in the first ever Infectious Disease Strategic Planning Workshop on Patch Barracks, in Stuttgart, Germany, from Sept. 4-6, 2019.
The workshop was developed for the United States government to create an operational approach specific to infectious disease prevention and response in Africa and included interagency support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of State and combat support agency, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
"Our idea was to bring together everybody who is working on infectious disease engagement in Africa to better understand each other and try to de-conflict, synchronize and leverage off one another,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Krystal Murphy, deputy command surgeon, AFRICOM.
Some of the most dangerous infectious diseases threatening Africa are malaria, dengue, yellow fever, Ebola, and Lasa fever and each can have a profound impact on the African continent, said U.S. Air Force Maj. Tyler Grunewald, AFRICOM medical planner and international health specialist.
All of the agencies work to combat these dangers. Specifically, the CDC and USAID use highly effective malaria prevention and treatment measures, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor spraying, preventative treatment of pregnant women, accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment with the use of the most effective pharmaceuticals, Grunewald said.
The workshop began with an introduction from Murphy about AFRICOM, then a briefing on the Global Health Security Agenda and National Biodefense Strategy and how they tie into Africa, followed by a CDC overview.
The GHSA was launched in February 2014 to advance a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats, to bring together nations from all over the world to make new, concrete commitments, and to elevate global health security as a national leaders-level priority.
The National Biodefense Strategy sets the course for the U.S. to combat the serious bio threats the country faces, whether they arise from natural outbreaks of disease, accidents involving high consequence pathogens, or the actions of terrorists or state actors.
CDC is an integrator of the GHSA and works to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. They collaborate with state, local, and territorial public health departments to investigate and protect against health threats. They also detect, respond, and eliminate health threats and have more than 150 labs to help identify diseases, food-borne outbreaks, biosecurity threats and environmental hazards.
"AFRICOM invited us to come because their intermediate objective for their campaign plan is on infectious disease and they wanted to use the Global Health Security Agenda as a framework for how they're going to implement their activities under that information operation," said Maureen Bartee, associate director for Global Health Security, Center for Global Health, CDC. "I'm here to help explain what we're doing and to explore ways in which CDC and AFRICOM can work together going forward."
After the CDC, USAID discussed some of their efforts which involves coordination with ministries of health, partners and communities in the control and prevention of infectious diseases. They also fund programs that fight against malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, neglected tropical diseases, pandemic influenza and other emerging threats.
Megan Fotheringham, deputy director, Office of Infectious Diseases, Global Health Bureau, USAID, said a large part of their program involves giving medicine to local health clinics so there's medication available to patients in need of treatment. They start at the national level and work down to the community level to help improve health systems in African countries.
Following USAID's presentation, DTRA shared their contributions which include facilitation, elimination, security, detection, and surveillance of especially dangerous pathogens. Ben A. Cacioppo, regional attaché, DTRA, described how they work directly with AFRICOM to provide prevention, protection and support response to an outbreak.
DTRA trains both military and civilian responders on how to enter at-risk populations, acquire samples and safely transport samples back to labs for analysis.
In addition to the actions taken to mitigate the spread of infectious disease, Sapana Vora, deputy team chief, U.S. Dept. of State, Bureau of International Security & Nonproliferation, Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction, said another useful tool is to utilize the U.S. embassies in high-threat areas. They have pre-established relationships in their respective countries and are available to help disseminate information on health issues and priorities to local communities, she said.
At the end of the workshop, Grunewald said all the information gathered will be shared with U.S. stakeholders, and follow-on strategic coordination with African partner nations. The intent of the AFRICOM surgeon’s office is to create a formal working group to continue the collaborative efforts this workshop began.
"I think events like this help us all understand AFRICOM’s priorities, keep focus on our national security priorities and work together to continually move the ball forward so that all stakeholders’ equities are met," Cacioppo said. "The bottom line is we're focused on saving lives, American lives, partner lives and ensuring the viability of our armed forces who have to operate in these areas."