THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Leveraging Expertise Across the U.S. Government
Many U.S. government agencies work in the health sector.
Some have a domestic focus while others, like USAID, have a
specific international mandate. This international expertise and
technical capacity can be harnessed in times of crisis, as was
demonstrated in the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
At that time, USAID was already working with the govern-
ment of Liberia to provide primary care services to a third of its
population. Foreign Service Officer Bethany Geddis joined the
mission in Liberia in 2012 to manage USAID’s relationship with
the government. “When Ebola crossed the border into Liberia,
USAID was in a position to immediately work with the Ministry of
Health on a rapid response,” says Geddis. “Our in-country pres-
ence, long-established relationships and role as a trusted techni-
cal partner in health laid a solid foundation for the interagency to
USAID worked with the Department of Defense and the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish training
protocols for Ebola treatment unit staffers and placement of labo-
ratories. Adapting protocols for infection, prevention and control
in Ebola treatment and health clinics leveraged CDC’s technical
expertise, USAID’s relationships and DoD’s training capabilities.
“Working together, we were able to quickly roll out a new set
of protocols and associated training for health care workers,” says
Geddis. USAIDwas also able to ensure that these protocols were
institutionalized into the health system after the initial outbreak.
Further, she said, “USAIDworked with Defense to ensure that
mobile labs coming into the country were placed in rural areas that
had the capacity tomaintain them (even if temporarily) and were
aligned with the Ministry of Health’s national laboratory plan.”
According to Adams, many multi-stakeholder initiatives in
global health are an outgrowth of partnerships with different
U.S. government agencies. She points to the Global Alliance for
Vaccines and Immunizations; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the Global Financing Facility and
Family Planning 2020 as examples of global health initiatives in
which the U.S. government has tremendous influence and clout.
Promoting Core American Values
Foreign Service officers want to make a positive contribution
to United States foreign policy objectives. Those who choose to
work in global health are also driven by a desire to alleviate the
suffering of others and improve the lives of the most vulnerable.
They often see their careers as more of a calling than a duty.
“Many of us who work in the health development field feel
strongly that people all over the world should have the oppor-
tunity for a better life,” notes Panther. “In the health sector, this
translates into improved family health and well-being, which
plays a significant role in lifting people out of abject poverty.
Community service is a big part of the American way of life, and
what better community to serve than the world community,
especially those who live in extreme poverty?”
Many Foreign Service health officers start their careers
in the Peace Corps, serving in remote areas of impoverished
countries, where they witness firsthand what it means to lack
access to basic health services and to die of easily preventable
diseases. While Foreign Service health officers want to put an
end to needless suffering, they are also conscientious about U.S.
government spending and accountability. Good governance,
open data, transparency, and careful management and oversight
of resources are among the values they try to instill through their
work in global health.
U.S. leadership in global health
often sets the tone, pushing
other countries to take health
issues seriously and to establish
commitments on a global level.
Jennifer Adams (second from right), USAID acting assistant
administrator for global health, with other members of the Food
and Drug Board of Ghana.