By Sgt. Alexandra Shea, 7450th Medical Backfill BattalionMay 7, 2018
LANDSTUHL, Germany -- Preventive Health representatives from the U.S. Army and Air Force met with their state and county level host nation counterparts from across the Rheinland Pfalz and Saarland areas May 3 at Public Health Command Europe Headquarters. The Public Health Officer Working Group reconvened after a several-year break to tackle public health challenges together and to strengthen partnerships between allied forces.
"You can never overstate the importance of this kind of collaboration and relationship," said Col. Rodney Coldren, chief of Preventive Medicine Services, Public Health Command Europe. "Our fence and gate doesn't stop transmission (of diseases), it shouldn't stop the flow of information either."
The meeting provided a chance for members of the German Public Health Department to meet their U.S. forces counterpart and exchange knowledge and contact information. The meeting also provided an outlet to discuss and collaborate on how to combat or prevent common public health topics such as annual influenza vaccinations and the continued fight to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Strong relationships with allied partners and the host nation are essential to ensure lines of communication are open and information released to the public is unified and accurate concerning daily health measures and during emergencies, according to Steven R. Steininger, U.S. Forces liaison officer for Rheinland Pfalz and Saarland. Steininger helped to establish the working group in 2006 after conducting multiple emergency management exercises.
"We brought both sides together locally," said Steininger. "We used the (working group) as a venue of information exchange and to build relationships, trust and communication. We continue to use this today."
In 2014, U.S. forces returning from humanitarian efforts in Africa were quarantined in Baumholder for 30 days. These Soldiers were quarantined after building medical treatment facilities for patients infected with the Ebola virus. These successful policies and procedures used to quarantine and treat any possible infected Soldiers became Department of Defense policy according to Steininger. He credits the collaborative work of the group for the success of these policies and procedures.
The working group didn't meet for several years until recently, to reconnect allied forces and host nation public health representatives. Current health challenges include the eradication of measles throughout Germany and routine testing of water supplies to prevent Legionella disease, a water born bacteria that can cause a type of pneumonia when inhaled. The working group will continue to meet bi-annually to continue discussions of daily health measures and emergency management.
"The Germans stand ready to support us and we stand ready to support our host nation partners," said Coldren. "This is a working relationship that really works well."