On April 1-4, the Perry Center, USSOUTHCOM, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) cohosted the 2014 Biosurveillance Challenges in the Americas Workshop at USSOUTHCOM in Miami, FL, an event that brought together senior leaders and experts in security and public health from 12 countries in the Western Hemisphere. The workshop focused on promoting the coordination of disease surveillance activities across Central and South America and the Caribbean, with the ultimate goal of improving early disease recognition and response times throughout the region. The event convened representatives from a range of international health agencies, including the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Department of Agriculture, the Mexican Department of Health’s Diagnostic and Epidemiological Reference Institute, the US Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, the Mexican Center for Disease Prevention, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, USNORTHCOM, and many others.
Perry Center Professor Dr. Luis Kun served as one of the event’s facilitators, appearing on a first-day discussion panel with Dr. Christina Eagan on “Biosafety and Biosecurity” and providing a second-day lecture on “Using Biosurveillance to Transform Healthcare.” Dr. Kun, whose interdisciplinary background gives him a unique perspective on the issue, highlighted that the major challenges facing the region are ill-defined problems and information stovepipes, which he termed “islands of excellence” that prevent information sharing and, ultimately, successful disease control. For example, he explained that the cholera outbreak in Haiti is a result of the lack of sustainable water infrastructure. Cholera is a “symptom” of the larger problem, and civil engineers rather than doctors and nurses are the ones that can correct the “disease” in Haiti. During his lecture, Dr. Kun underscored the importance of improving information sharing among health care professionals with the chilling statistic that even in the United States, 98,000 people die each year owing to preventable medical errors.