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A team approach strengthens African partner medical capabilities

  • Published
  • By Dr. Scott Zuerlein and Chloe Arevalo
  • U.S. Air Force International Health Specialists

Last month marked the completion of a five-year program to enhance the expeditionary medical capabilities of four African partner nations.

The African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, established in 2015, is a Department of State directed initiative centered on generating the capability to rapidly deploy peacekeeping operations on the Continent. The program provides assistance across multiple capability areas, but the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences' Center for Global Health Engagement focused on developing medical capabilities that support rapid responses to regional crises with the armed forces of Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal, and Uganda since 2017.

“Joint and total force support was integral for CGHE to establish and maintain the five-year investment,” said Lt. Col. Paul Conroy, Air Force International Health Specialist at CGHE.

Subject matter experts from United States Africa Command, United States Air Force, Army, and Navy, and other parts of USU designed and conducted training aimed towards development of expeditionary field hospital capabilities.

“The joint team brought insights from each organization to enhance the skills, structures, and processes required to establish and sustain a deployable field hospital and provide casualty care on-site,” said Lt. Col. Conroy.

The program provided equipment and utilized a step-wise approach to training on many functional areas, such as logistics, medical planning, tactical combat casualty care, and infection control.

As the program grew, so did the partnerships. Integration of the National Guard State Partnership Program enhanced continuity of the APRRP program. The SPP pairs U.S. states with partner nations, resulting in deep and enduring relationships.

“Global health engagement builds confidence and trust that my brothers and sisters in arms, regardless of where I deployed, would take care of me. Engaging in a joint environment enhanced this confidence building.”

– Lt. Col. Angela Ling, Nebraska Air National Guard

Three state partnerships were involved in the medical component of APRRP; North Dakota and Ghana, Nebraska and Rwanda, and Vermont and Senegal. The Guardsmen in these states cultivate long-term relationships to provide a durable strategic advantage in support of the National Defense Strategy. The SPP programs may include activities such as reciprocal visits, knowledge exchanges, and bilateral military exercises and training. Since Guardsmen often serve in the same unit for many years, relationships with partners endure over time.

“Because of the SPP, I guaranteed our partner nation counterparts I would support the program from start to finish. The Guardsmen’s focus on foundational relationships allowed for partners to connect and recognize one another on a personal level, before discussing assessments. Our partners can see the same familiar faces, and that bolsters trust,” said Maj. Louisa Harness, North Dakota Air National Guard.

The partnership between Ghana and North Dakota contributed to the success of Ghanaian capability building and regional stability. This partnership was important to Ghana’s readiness to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The field hospital developed through the APRRP program was utilized as part of Ghana’s national pandemic response.

“Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity to test out the field hospital facilities and see if it would meet the requirements for a successful peacekeeping operation deployment. Through this, Ghana found the underlying challenges and communicated with our partners to bolster the field hospital for a peacekeeping arena,” said Lt. Col. Delali Adzigbli, Ghana Armed Forces officer.

Today, Ghana’s field hospital is deployed in support of a peacekeeping operation in South Sudan.

“Ghana received the opportunity to deploy rapid peacekeeping operations to South Sudan using the capabilities developed during APRRP. This gave us an opportunity to stand on our feet and know that we can sustain a field hospital,” said Lt. Col. Adzigbli. “Knowledge is something we must continue to build to enhance interoperability. To achieve this, we identified our needs and how best we could help our partners to make APRRP more successful. Because of APRRP, Ghana is now impacting the lives of South Sudan people, and for us, that is a big success,” said Lt. Col. Adzigbli.

The deployment of capabilities built via the APRRP program is a testament to the impact global health engagement can have on strengthening rapid response capabilities.

“Global health engagement builds confidence and trust that my brothers and sisters in arms, regardless of where I deployed, would take care of me. Engaging in a joint environment enhanced this confidence building. Knowing that we are all speaking the same tactical language, even though we are not speaking the same language, is powerful.” said Lt. Col. Angela Ling, Nebraska Air National Guard.

In the end, all four countries met UN standards for deployment of their field hospitals.

“We benefited and are still benefiting from APRRP. Ghana has continued the programs and have become the trainer of trainers. We continue to train other staff on capabilities we developed during APRRP,” said Lt. Col. Adzigbli.