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Fighting Pandemics: Pacific Air Forces and Association of South East Asian Nations Center for Military Medicine join forces to prevent outbreaks

Synchronized Militaries of Association of South East Asian Nations Reporting Tools for Infectious and Environmental Surveillance, or SMARTIES, initiative team members conduct a planning conference at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences March 19 through 20, 2019.

Synchronized Militaries of Association of South East Asian Nations Reporting Tools for Infectious and Environmental Surveillance, or SMARTIES, initiative team members conduct a planning conference at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences, Bangkok, Thailand, March 19 through 20, 2019. (Courtesy Photo)

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The ability to rapidly detect outbreaks is critical to mitigating their overall impact. This is why the Pacific Air Forces Office of the Surgeon General and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Center for Military Medicine have joined forces in order to establish a harmonized disease outbreak surveillance system.

As part of an initiative referred to as Synchronized Militaries of ASEAN Reporting Tools for Infectious and Environmental Surveillance, or SMARTIES, the surgeon general’s office established a team of subject matter experts from Headquarters Air Force Operations Group, Pentagon, Washington D.C., United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, United States Army Public Health Command-Pacific, Hawaii, United States Naval Medical Research Unit, Singapore, and John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Baltimore, Maryland.

March 19 through 20, the team traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, to conduct an initial planning conference. They met with partners from ASEAN Center of Military Medicine and the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences to discuss steps toward a fuller harmonization of cross-border public health surveillance and the prevention of disease outbreaks of international significance.

These steps would drive a standard for public health surveillance language and practices, as well as create a common operational picture of disease outbreak in the region. By doing this, it enables the armed forces and public health civil authorities of any of the 10 ASEAN nations and the United States to communicate and coordinate public health emergencies in order to protect the civilian population.

“This is part of a five-year engagement that will benefit all 10 ASEAN member military medical departments and result in enhanced public health decision making for the United States along with our allies and partners,” said United States Air Force Lt. Col. Jeremy Bragdon, Team Lead, Mekong Region Health Engagements at PACAF/SG Global Health Engagement branch chief.

The PACAF-lead team is scheduled to return to Thailand to conduct additional planning and formulate recommendations for specific policies and procedures to harmonize ACMM member nation public health methodology in epidemiology, laboratory diagnostics, and information management/analysis.

“Historically, disease and non-battle injuries continue to be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity affecting humanitarian assistance and military operations worldwide,” said United States Air Force Maj. Michael Kwon, Headquarters Air Force Defense Support of Civil Authorities. “Of these, infectious and environmental hazards are especially notable for disregarding geopolitical borders and affecting indiscriminately both military and civilian populations alike.”

The SMARTIES initiative seeks to prevent such pandemics by leveraging the already established ASEAN Center for Military Medicine alliance with its network of regional cross-border, interagency and military-civilian relationships.

“The initiative will entail a ‘One Health’, multilateral approach in order to bridge gaps and to harmonize training, surveillance, and response efforts within ASEAN,” said United States Air Force Maj. Venita Ramirez, Public Health consultant at the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.

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