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December 2017

US Military Engagement in Humanitarian Surgery: What Is the Mandate?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Surgery, Stanford University, Stanford, California
  • 2Palo Alto Veterans Health Care System, Palo Alto, California
  • 3The Department of Surgery at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland
JAMA Surg. 2017;152(12):1101-1102. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2017.3145

In its 2015 report,1 the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery estimated that 5 billion people in low- and middle-income countries lack access to essential surgical procedures. With access to care in these countries severely hindered by infrastructural deficiencies, political instabilities, and workforce shortages, many access surgical care via humanitarian missions.

The US Department of Defense (DOD) is a major entity in the humanitarian space, with an array of globally deployable assets and a unique capacity to help bridge the infrastructure and workforce gaps. However, there is a perception among some international humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that the US military uses humanitarian aid as an incentive to secure cooperation.2,3 The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed concerns regarding the “militarization” of humanitarian aid.4