At the intersection of public health and national defense: DoD labs

There’s a new CSIS report out on the effectiveness of overseas labs functioning under the Department of Defense. General findings include more-frequent than expected interaction with regional offices, and an unexpected focus on diseases relevant to the endemic population. This is natural, if you think about it: DoD labs function at the interest of the US military, and members of the service on the ground are (ignoring the effects of malnutrition and resistance) just as susceptible to malaria or cryptosporidiosis or what have you as anyone in the area as a function of birth. The primary goal of these infectious disease units is, consequently, to protect first-world soldiers from third-world diseases.

These labs are important for a few reasons:
– Proximity to location of interest. A permanently funded station abroad to conduct research is an invaluable resource, and allows for longer-term projects.
– Funding is through the defense department rather than general research grants. Though intradepartmental funding is free to shift from year to year, this session of Congress (as with many other sessions of congress) has demonstrated greater reluctance to cut defense budgets than allocated funds for medical research.
– Staffed by military personnel rather than civilian researchers, they stand at the interface of aid and security, and are fit to work with the intricate relationship between the two. More on that sometime later.

This got me thinking:
Health technologies for combat situations in the US are identical in need to those abroad: point-of-care diagnosis is critical in a high-speed situation, no freeze chain may be available, and disposable or reusable technologies may save lives. This represents an alternate path to funding : develop appropriate technologies for and through the US military, cut costs subsequently to re-appropriate technologies for use in resource-poor environments. Implement through existing labs that have established relationships with locals in disease-ridden locations, and with flexible personnel available to monitor program effectiveness.

And put it under “defense funding.”

Why? Because there is no greater source of goodwill than saving lives at the community level. I’m beginning to firmly believe that one of the most firmly IGNORED issues is health in the backwaters(mountains?) of the Middle East. The region lacks instant recognition, the celebrity appeal of sub-saharan Africa, and is of course known for a plethora of other problems. But the concerns, particularly in overall security, are MUCH more high-risk (if less high-profile) with regard to US interests – and where terrorist organizations recruit out of poverty and desperation as a result of illness, where women in childbirth are occasionally not taken to a hospital to be given a caesarian by a man, where operations may be postponed until a family can pay, there can be fewer more substantial security investments.

At the intersection of public health and national defense: DoD labs

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