The Defense Department has made critical contributions to the fight against the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and today Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described additional ways the Pentagon is helping in the broader battle against infectious disease outbreaks of the future.
He spoke at a gathering of top government and military officials and infectious disease experts from 44 countries here to attend the Global Health Security Agenda, or GHSA, Summit hosted by President Barack Obama.
Hagel said that because DoD maintains a longstanding research program to defend troops against infectious diseases, including Ebola, it has been able to provide critical diagnostic tools to help with the outbreak in West Africa.
The department also is accelerating the manufacture of potential treatments and starting clinical trials for a vaccine candidate.
Ebola vaccine candidate
“On Wednesday,” Hagel added, “we received approval to begin safety testing for one [Ebola] vaccine candidate that will be conducted here at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.”
In its other contributions, DoD is supporting the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, and other U.S. government agencies to stop the spread of Ebola.
“As President Obama announced last week, through Operation United Assistance, DoD is deploying U.S. troops, as well as our unique capabilities including command and control, logistics, engineering and training support,” he said.
Detection and surveillance
The DoD Cooperative Threat Reduction Program is providing unique resources and expertise to enhance detection and surveillance, Hagel said, and all department assets will help civilian responders contain Ebola's spread and mitigate its economic, social and political fallout.
The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program also is working with the State Department, USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, to support capacity-building initiatives with 30 countries.
“For example,” Hagel said, “in the nation of Georgia, which I visited earlier this month, DoD worked with other U.S. agencies to help establish the new Lugar Center. The Lugar Center is a state-of-the-art laboratory that will serve as a node for cooperation with regional and global health authorities.”
Other DoD programs help ensure that labs around the world with dangerous pathogens are safe and secure, he added.
Health security capacity
Last year, DoD developed a unique partnership with CDC to strengthen health security capacity in Vietnam and Uganda.
“This year,” the secretary said, “we expanded this initiative to 10 more countries.”
Department assets also will “support the efforts of partner nations and multilateral and nongovernmental organizations, he added, “and they will help leave behind stronger health care systems and infrastructures.”
DoD’s command center in Liberia is up and running and will support civilian efforts. Teams on the ground are creating an air bridge and an intermediate staging base in Senegal to help transport personnel and supplies into West Africa.
Training health workers
“We are standing up a field hospital and treatment units and will be training thousands of health workers. Two mobile laboratories, staffed by Ebola experts, are now arriving in Liberia,” he said, adding that DoD teams are working as fast as they can to move in personnel, equipment and supplies.
Hagel said that as interested nations continue to develop new opportunities to help build a stronger global health care infrastructure, all must ensure that collaboration across and within governments is more agile and responsive the next time a crisis arises.
“Whether we sit in defense ministries or health ministries,” the secretary added, “we all have a common interest in helping all nations -- helping each other -- prevent and contain outbreaks to support the development of health systems and infrastructures.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)