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AFRICOM West Africa Pandemic Response Exercise Kicks Off in Benin
A nation's military plays a key role in the response to a medical or humanitarian crisis such as a pandemic, said experts at U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response table top exercise, June 21, 2010 in Cotonou,
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise listen to opening remarks, June 21, 2010. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assist the West African Region with enhancing and developing national and regional pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
3 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 1 of 3: COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise listen to opening remarks, June 21, 2010. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assist the West African Region with enhancing and developing national and regional pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner) Download full-resolution version
COTONOU, Benin - Richard Kolker, consulate officer for the U.S. Embassy Benin, addresses participants of U.S. Africa Command's Pandemic Disaster Response Table Top Exercise, June 21, 2010 in Cotonou, Benin.  This is the first Pandemic Disaster Response exercise of this kind funded by USAID and led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM) to be held in West Africa. The five-day exercise brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assist in developing and enhancing national and regional pandemic disaster response plans.  (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
3 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 2 of 3: COTONOU, Benin - Richard Kolker, consulate officer for the U.S. Embassy Benin, addresses participants of U.S. Africa Command's Pandemic Disaster Response Table Top Exercise, June 21, 2010 in Cotonou, Benin. This is the first Pandemic Disaster Response exercise of this kind funded by USAID and led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM) to be held in West Africa. The five-day exercise brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assist in developing and enhancing national and regional pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner) Download full-resolution version
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise introduce themselves on the opening day of the event, June 21, 2010. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assess and develop national and regional disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
3 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 3 of 3: COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise introduce themselves on the opening day of the event, June 21, 2010. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assess and develop national and regional disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner) Download full-resolution version
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise listen to opening remarks, June 21, 2010. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assist the West African Region with enhancing and developing national and regional pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
COTONOU, Benin - Richard Kolker, consulate officer for the U.S. Embassy Benin, addresses participants of U.S. Africa Command's Pandemic Disaster Response Table Top Exercise, June 21, 2010 in Cotonou, Benin.  This is the first Pandemic Disaster Response exercise of this kind funded by USAID and led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM) to be held in West Africa. The five-day exercise brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assist in developing and enhancing national and regional pandemic disaster response plans.  (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise introduce themselves on the opening day of the event, June 21, 2010. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assess and develop national and regional disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
A nation's military plays a key role in the response to a medical or humanitarian crisis such as a pandemic, said experts at U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response table top exercise, June 21, 2010 in Cotonou, Benin.

Military and civilian representatives from 15 African nations came together to collaborate in the assessment and development of national and regional disaster response plans. The mixture of military and civilian personnel recognizes the importance of a "whole of government" approach to dealing with a potential pandemic. Subject-matter experts from the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and several international agencies were also in attendance.

The exercise was hosted by the Armed Forces of Benin and supported by the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM).

"The recent H1N1 outbreak highlighted the critical importance of the holistic approach that governments must take to mitigate the effects of a complex humanitarian emergency," said Brigadier General Stayce Harris, U.S. AFRICOM's mobilization reserve assistant to the commander.

Addressing more than 100 participants on the opening day of the exercise, Harris stressed the importance of being prepared for potential humanitarian emergencies such as a pandemic influenza disaster.

"We must keep in mind that health and security issues are linked together, which align with U.S. Africa Command's key strategic theater objectives--that of assisting nations with protecting populations from deadly contagions."

Throughout the table top portion of the exercise, participants will be divided into three groups, or response teams (national, regional, and military), each with specific roles and responsibilities. In each session, the groups will address key issues and events in a complex humanitarian emergency that would take place during a severe influenza pandemic.

Representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), United Nations (UNDP), World Food Program (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with other agencies, were on hand to provide capabilities briefs, designed to prepare participants for the table top exercise. The briefs covered the organizations' structures, missions, and an overview of the role each organization would play in the event of a pandemic disaster.

Peter Hubbard, USAID's director of West African Affairs Bureau, provided an overview of USAID and discussed the importance of an integrated effort.

"A good disaster preparedness plan is like a book, with each responsible agency, government ministries, elements of civil society such as NGOs and the private sector, academic institutions, and external assistance organizations, including UN agencies and bilateral donors responsible for a chapter," said Hubbard. "Each chapter needs to fit neatly in a well integrated way with all the others. The job of editing this book is a complicated one, but essential if countries are to mitigate the potential adverse consequences of disasters such as pandemics in order to save lives and livelihoods."

According to U.S. Africa Command's Pandemic Response Program director, Erik Threet, the objectives of the Pandemic Response Program are to ensure that Benin's military is effectively integrated into national government pandemic planning and mechanisms are in place to work with other countries and international agencies to conduct an effective regional response.

Threet explained that previous pandemic disaster response exercises were conducted in during Exercise Natural Fire in late 2009 in Uganda. However, this is the first exercise of its kind in West Africa. The events in East Africa were so successful, he said, that they brought in East African subject-matter experts from the exercise to assist their West African colleagues in disaster management by facilitating in the various exercise teams.

The East African facilitators include two representatives from Uganda: Pamela Komujuni from the NDMC, and Colonel Dick Olum, director of education for the Uganda People's Defense Force. Representing Kenya is Vincent Anami from the NDOC.

Olum told participants that while the military is a necessary part of the response efforts, it is never in the lead. The military, Olum said, is there to take direction from the national government task force and provide support in the form of logistics, security, transportation, and other areas.

"A pandemic is global and far more than a medical problem," said Olum. "That's why we have to work together with other government agencies, UN agencies, the Red Cross, NGOS and international NGOs, other national governments, and other agencies."

Cooperation with Benin will continue long after the exercise ends. Erik Threet told participants that the command is committed to long-term sustainable results and will continue to engage with Benin through follow-up meetings and exercises.

At a reception following the opening of the session, U.S. Ambassador to Benin James Knight met with participants and talked about the importance of programs like the Pandemic Response exercise to the West African nation.

"Benin is an extremely good partner to the programs that AFRICOM offers. I'm pleased that we have so many opportunities here. This one is to my knowledge the biggest and most extensive, and the fact that it's gone so well shows that it is a good place to be. The country wants more cooperation like this, so we look forward to more and better cooperation with AFRICOM."

This exercise is part of a series of engagements led by U.S. Africa Command through its Pandemic Response Program (PRP) to assist African militaries in strengthening their capabilities and capacities to respond to pandemic influenza in the context of a larger national pandemic preparedness and response plan.

PRP is funded by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of its umbrella program Humanitarian Pandemic Preparedness Initiative (H2P)

PRPs objectives are to train senior and mid-level military leaders in disaster management and humanitarian assistance with a particular focus on pandemic preparedness; to ensure that militaries in targeted "pandemic preparedness" countries have developed detailed plans of action directly supporting national plans; and to conduct exercises to test the implementation of these plans and identify gaps or deficiencies.

See related article: Benin Officers Prepare for Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise
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