Relationships are at the core of OGA’s work, and critical to these relationships overseas are Health Attachés. Health Attachés play a key role in the intersection of global health and diplomacy, supporting US Embassy staff, the local Ministries of Health (MOH) and Science and Technology (MOST), HHS operating and staff divisions (e.g., CDC, NIH, FDA, HRSA, SAMHSA, AHRQ, ACF, ACL, CMS, IHS), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the countries and regions where they are posted. OGA currently has Health Attachés in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Kenya, and South Africa, as well as one posted in Geneva, Switzerland, to work with the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies. These positions work in and with HHS priority organizations, countries, and regions supporting activities in global health security, health emergency preparedness and response, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, emerging diseases, and environmental health. As Health Attachés possess expertise on public health, the local context, and HHS programs, US Missions where they are placed and are able to cultivate stronger relationships with the host country and region.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and rising threat of health emergency outbreaks, the role of Health Attachés has become even more essential in coordinating US government global health activities with the activities of their host countries. Activities in Brazil and Kenya are exemplary of the support led by Health Attachés during these emergencies:
- In Brazil, the HHS Health Attaché coordinated with the National Security Council, the US interagency, and the Government of Brazil to secure equipment and vaccines needed to address COVID-19. At the same time, the Attaché led the Mission Task Force in coordinating Post policies, workspace adaptations, and communications for more than 1,500 US employees and family members and Brazilian staff, requiring knowledge and interpretation of public health guidelines and emerging science, as well as understanding of the local epidemic context.
- In 2019, the Health Attaché to Kenya established the interagency Ebola Task Force and co-chaired an interagency taskforce with the Deputy Chief of Mission that focused on Kenya and regional preparedness activities, as well as Embassy Health Protection efforts. This taskforce transitioned to serve as the focal point at the Embassy for COVID-19 policy, operational, and technical discussions. The HHS Attaché led the taskforce, and the Ambassador tasked the Attaché to serve as Coordinator for the Embassy’s COVID-19 activities.
Health Attachés are uniquely positioned in their roles, requiring knowledge of both public health guidelines and of their host country context, and they are thus key members of US Embassy staff. As needed, Health Attachés advise Embassy officials, HHS staff, and others on health and human services issues, HHS priorities, and country or regional concerns. They represent US health and human services interests to the local MOH and in policy discussions in their host countries and regions. As the main point of contact for HHS programs in country, they also advise HHS operating and staff divisions on local issues that could affect in-country program policies and operations.
Due to their key role in global health diplomacy and their strong reputation, HHS continues to receive more requests for Health Attachés than they can currently post.