By U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa / U.S. Sixth Fleet Public Affairs
TUNIS, Tunisia – Medical experts from the U.S. and North Africa, participated in a virtual pandemic preparation and response exchange in support of exercise Phoenix Express 2021 in Tunis, Tunisia, May 18, 2021.
The “Pandemic Preparation and Response Virtual Engagement” event served as an opportunity for partner nations to discuss infectious disease surveillance and virus outbreak response. Participants included medical leaders from partner nations including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom. Members from Navy Environmental and Preventative Medicine Unit 7 presented for the U.S Navy during the discussion. These experts exchanged lessons learned from previous epidemics in their respective countries, as well as the unprecedented worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
Through facilitated discussions, the event highlighted collaborations between militaries and local public health departments and the current goal of recovering previously infected military members.
Service members from the U.S. Navy presented their experiences with outbreak responses in military and maritime environments.
“The virtual event gave us and our partner nations an opportunity to talk about some of the issues and concerns from the height of the pandemic including mental health concerns and anxiety,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kristina Polk, emergency medicine physician currently stationed at U.S. Naval Hospital, Naples, Italy. “It was reassuring for partner nations to hear that other nations were experiencing similar post-pandemic problems as it relates to isolation, families, and other social challenges.”
Participants voiced their shared challenges during early pandemic response, which included shortages in personal protective equipment and limited accommodations for sick patients at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In cross-sharing the challenges and solutions, participants assisted each other in improving professional bio-surveillance methods, and refining other techniques learned throughout the pandemic.
“One example is our pandemic response plan,” said Cmdr. Polk. “It is a living document that has to evolve. Our annual pandemic response plan was based on an influenza pandemic, but that was not what we had in this case. We had to adapt as we got more information about this specific pandemic.”
Exercise Phoenix Express is one of three regional maritime exercises executed by U.S. Naval Forces Africa as part of a comprehensive strategy to provide collaborative opportunities amongst African forces and international partners that addresses maritime security concerns. This is the 16th iteration of exercise Phoenix Express.
The U.S. Navy remains operational during COVID-19, following all COVID-19 safety precautions and regulations.
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.