A Firsthand Account of AFRICOM’s Pandemic Response Program

This blog post was written by Brigadier General Stayce Harris, U.S. Africa Command’s mobilization reserve assistant to the commander.

Over the past 2 years, I have had the honor of working with AFRICOM/J5’s Pandemic Response Program (PRP) run by AFRICOM, funded by USAID and implemented by CDHAM (Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine).   One of Africa Command’s strategic objectives is “assisting partner nations with protecting populations from emerging infectious diseases.” The role of PRP is to assist in strengthening African partner military nations’ capacities to respond to a pandemic in support of their national pandemic response plan.  The key themes of PRP are the importance of preparedness for a response, clear command and control in multi-jurisdictional disasters and regional cooperation during a severe pandemic disaster.

I’ve witnessed this exercise transition and mature, moving from the facilitators and presenters coming from the United States to our most recent exercise in Burkina Faso where the facilitators and presenters were our African partners!  What a success, “African solutions for Africa”! 

During this Burkina Faso PRP exercise, the Partner Nation’s civilian government leaders, military leaders, NGOs, IOs and regional partners that have an expertise in Pandemic Disaster management gather for a week-long tabletop exercise.  The exercise “stress tests” and validates the nation’s pandemic response plan in areas that include health, security, logistics, communications, operations amongst others areas depending on the nation’s requirements.  We must keep in mind that health and security issues are closely linked. 

In addition to the national exercises, PRP has regional exercises.  Regional cooperation is the key as pandemics and disasters know no borders, and the stronger the regional communication and cooperation in the event of a pandemic disaster, the greater chance of saving more lives.  The regional partnerships enable partners to share their best practices, capabilities and capacities to better work with each other.

It was a pleasure being in Burkina Faso for the last exercise and having the opportunity to visit regional fire brigades Sapeurs Pompiers and the nation’s firefighting school in Bobo Dioulasso.  The men and women truly live up to their motto of “Sauver ou Perir” (Save or Perish)!

Our women’s luncheon in Burkina Faso was a particular highlight, as we bonded in sisterhood and together are committed to saving lives in our nations as well as serving as mentors and positive role models for those (women and men) that follow.  

I hold firm to the personal belief that there is no greater duty than saving lives, and that’s what the Pandemic Response Program accomplishes.  It enables a nation to test their national disaster response plan in order to maximize the lives saved in the event of a pandemic or other disaster.  Thank you for the opportunity to serve with this beneficial and rewarding program and more importantly to create working relationships and lifetime friendships with our African partners!

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