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Surgeon General's Corner: Navy Medicine Partnerships in Health Diplomacy
Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson
Navy Surgeon General

Surgeon General's Corner: Navy Medicine’s Partnerships in Health Diplomacy

By Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson, Jr., U.S. Navy Surgeon General

The 2011 National Military Strategy states that “our military power is most effective when employed in support and in concert with other elements of power as part of whole-of-nation approaches to foreign policy.” Navy Medicine plays a vital role in support of this strategic mission. After responding to two tsunamis in six years, two earthquakes in Pakistan and Haiti, and a hurricane in the Gulf Coast, we have proven the necessity of a robust expeditionary military medical force to bring hope and stability to places and people in dire need, which ultimately leads to more peace, security, and prosperity in the broader world. Japan is but the latest reminder of the importance of our ability to partner with others to provide medical surge capabilities.

Medicine is a common language that all countries understand. Wherever we can provide hope, comfort, and care to others in need, and wherever we can partner with other allied nations through military medical partnerships, it behooves us to do so; to build trust and cooperation, and strengthen our relationships with a broader coalition   of countries for our mutual benefit,   and simply put, it is the right thing to do. These partnerships are translating into a host of new medical advancements in areas like disease prevention, wounded warrior care, and TBI treatment. Embracing joint, interagency, whole-of-nation, multi-national, and public/private partnerships is where we must go if we are to truly have a enduring impact on global health issues.

USNS Comfort is finishing a deployment to South/Central America, and  the Caribbean in support of Continuing Promise 2011 and USNS Mercy returned from their Pacific Partnership mission last August after caring for over 210,000 citizens from 13 countries. Our partnerships include also extend to countries such as Botswana, Djibouti, Egypt, Vietnam, and Peru where we house research labs and work directly with our host nation military medical counterparts. These partnerships provide needed resources and diplomatic tools for the interagency to develop their own initiatives with foreign governments. Our engagement programs include partnerships in undersea and aerospace medicine, vaccine and infectious disease research, environmental health and toxicology, and surgical and reconstructive research, including regenerative medicine. Our forward presence overseas enables us to provide preparedness regarding potential threats – infectious, toxic and environmental – existent on six continents. 

Our partnerships also extend to countries such as Botswana, Djibouti, Egypt, Vietnam, and Peru where we house research and development labs and work directly with our host nation military medical counterparts. Our three overseas laboratory commands and their subordinate detachments and field activities have enabled us to provide needed resources and diplomatic tools for the interagency to develop their own initiatives with foreign governments. Our method of providing “shoulder to shoulder” medical science, infectious disease and health hazard support to host nation governments has been repeatedly cited as their best practice model for building more trust, cooperation, and collaboration with us. To that end, we have held extensive international engagements and development relationships in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia-Pacific for over 66 years.

These broad activities represent only a fraction of what Navy Medicine provides in support of our nation’s national security, diplomatic, and development missions. They highlight our enhanced and enlarged global footprint of health diplomacy. These partnerships should serve as a model to grow and sustain our own capacity as well as the capacity of interagency programs for the future. 

As global health diplomats and ambassadors, we are part of our nation’s and our Navy’s “global force for good.” Thank you for everything you do and thank you for your service.  It is my honor and privilege to represent you as your Surgeon General.

-USN-