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Home : News
NEWS | Jan. 11, 2023

Team Approach Strengthens African Partner Medical Capabilities

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

FALLS CHURCH, Va. - A five-year program to enhance the expeditionary medical capabilities of four African partner nations was completed last month.

The African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, established in 2015, is a Department of State-directed initiative centered on generating the capability to deploy peacekeeping operations on the continent rapidly. The program assists in 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 U.S. Africa Command, the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy, and other parts of USU designed and conducted training to develop 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,” Conroy said.

The program provided equipment and utilized a step-wise approach to training in 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 DOD National Guard State Partnership Program enhanced the continuity of the APRRP program. The SPP pairs U.S. states with partner nations, resulting in deep and enduring relationships.

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 include 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,” said Maj. Louisa Harness, North Dakota Air National Guard. “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.“

The partnership between Ghana and North Dakota contributed to the success of Ghanaian capability building and regional stability. Ghana used the field hospital developed through the APRRP program as part of its 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 supports 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 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.”

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.

All four countries met UN standards for the 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,” Adzigbli said.