Culture, Health and Human Security Symposium

Click here to View the Culture, Health and Human Security Symposium Symposium Presentations.

On December 3, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Honorable S. Ward Casscells, M.D. welcomed experts and leaders at a one-day symposium to explore the implications of health and culture in human security.  The symposium included speakers from academia, think tanks, federal agencies, and the military, who offered opinions and anecdotal evidence from personal experiences working in Iraq and Afghanistan, and insights into the ongoing research into these topics. 
“Health is a promoter of peace, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Dr. S. Ward Casscells, at the start of the symposium. “Meetings like this are where policies are born.”
The symposium started with a broad overview of how DoD can affect international relations and conduct foreign diplomacy. DoD can be particularly effective in promoting national interests by conducting health missions, sometimes even referred to as “health diplomacy.”  Dr. Steve Morrison, Director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described his view of the ambiguous role the military health practitioners play in foreign policy as they deliver health around the world. He foresees the future role of the MHS in foreign ”health diplomacy” as growing less ambiguous though not necessarily less frequent.
Following Dr. Morrison, Dr. Robert Rubinstein, Professor of Anthropology and International Relations at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, described both between-organization as well as among-people cultural divides. DoD health practitioners often find themselves working with other U.S. Government agencies to deliver services among other cultures. The cultural differences oftentimes stymie the best intentions.   
Dr. Susan Sered, Professor of Religious Anthropology at Suffolk University, followed Dr. Rubinstein, offering insight into the research she’s completed on the role that women and religion plays in health care in the Middle East. Her point was that cultures create symbols that are carried through generations and women have a distinct place in Middle Eastern cultures that can be understood through religious symbology. 
Lunch was punctuated by a discussion of health and Islam by LCDR/Imam Abuhena M. Saifulislam. Islam, he emphasized, placed health and purity at the center of worship. 
Dr. Adil Shamoo, a Defense Health Board member and ethical advisor to the Board, described the ethical dilemmas and potentialities posed by building health capacity in other countries. He established several potential decision paths and suggested that ethical decision making could create legitimacy.  
Two other symposium speakers, Dr. Alexander Dehgan  and Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood went on to offer lessons learned and insight into the programs currently in place regarding medical health scientific opportunities with Iran. Dr. Dehgan is currently the Senior Policy Advisor for the U.S. Department of State, and described the potential for diplomacy that stemmed from Iranian’s love of science.  Dr. Khoshnood, Assistant Professor in Public Health from the Yale School of Public Health, described his work with HIV/AIDS physicians from Iran and the sometimes unintended consequences of that work. Two Iranian physicians have been jailed for five months under suspicion for spying. 
Wrapping up the day, the Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne described her lengthy history working with the Marsh Arabs of Iraq. The Baroness, a member of the European Parliament, believes in the importance of health care to build civil society.  In her view, health care transcends questions of securitization.    
The final speaker, Canon Andrew White from the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, who has worked for peace and reconciliation with religious leaders in Iraq remarked that, “the provision of health care can influence peace from the ground roots up.”