The Intersection of Health and Security: SOUTHCOM Perspectives on the Value of Global Health Engagement
By U.S. Air Force Colonel Rudolph Cachuela, Command Surgeon, U.S. Southern Command December 05, 2016Every year, infectious disease outbreaks continue to threaten health and security globally, emerging and spreading at unprecedented and continuously increasing rates. Infectious disease outbreaks impact the livelihoods of individuals, cause major disruptions to travel and productivity, and pose serious risks to citizens around the world and our U.S. Armed Forces, both at home and forward deployed. These global health threats also impact economic growth, stability, and ultimately the development potential of nations – all of whose complex interplay influences the overall security of countries and regions in which the United States has significant interests. At the highest levels, the U.S. government has reaffirmed that global health is a critical priority in achieving a peaceful, prosperous, and secure society – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s a smart and strategic investment. Our National Security Strategy underscores the importance of global health security, recognizing that the spread of infectious diseases, and other global health threats, constitutes a growing risk and transcends political boundaries. The Global Health Security Agenda further demonstrates the United States’ commitment, representing a growing partnership devoted to increasing countries’ capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to endemic and emerging infectious disease threats. In close collaboration with the U.S. interagency, the Department of Defense plays an important role in combating global health threats as a matter of national security by building capacity in Partner Nation military health service support, force health protection, disaster preparedness and response, health surveillance, and medical research and development. At U.S. Southern Command, we recognize that direct support to the training and readiness of our partner nations yields dividends in fostering robust multinational support to coalition operations and reduces the risks to our own force. Through medical training and logistics support, sharing expertise and information, and advancing humanitarian and disaster relief capacity, we are strengthening partner nation military health systems, building capacity to help prevent, detect, and respond to disease threats, and enhancing regional capabilities in medical disaster preparedness and response. We do so recognizing that public health, force health protection, and full spectrum care are integral to maintaining the health and mission-capable status of partner nations’ forces – the same forces that uphold internal regional security, engage in international peacekeeping missions, and partner with us in the fight against transregional and transnational threat networks. The U.S. Southern Command’s health engagements are force multipliers in strengthening security capacity, resulting in great successes to date. For example, at the early stages of the Zika outbreak, the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 6 established research sites in partnership with partners in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Peru to actively engage in subject matter expert exchanges, enhancing the region’s capabilities to prevent, detect, and respond to the virus. As another example, in Colombia, we’ve worked to build medical expertise in areas like patient movement, resulting in increased confidence in expeditious access to the necessary level of military medical care, and we continue to support Colombia as they share their military medical expertise and capabilities with partner nations to advance regional security in Central and South America. While we have seen great value in utilizing Global Health Engagement as a strategic tool to achieve security objectives, much work remains. The complex health challenges we face go beyond geographical and political boundaries, and require a transregional synchronization of effort. We must continue to increase collaboration with other Combatant Commands to identify common goals, best practices, and shared approaches to improve the Department of Defense’s united response to combat transregional health issues. We must also revamp strong monitoring and evaluation systems in coordination with the interagency, partner nations, and other key stakeholders to ensure we continue to build on progress, and target and tailor our activities based on data-driven decision making. The U.S. Southern Command is committed to advancing national interests both at home and abroad. We strive to be the preferred security partner for the region; we continuously plan and prepare for crisis and contingency response; and we help keep the region stable and our nation secure by addressing transregional threat networks. Our ability to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks and other global health threats plays a critical role in defending our shared home of the Americas.