Navy Lab in Indonesia Serves on Front Line of Medical Research
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
JAKARTA, Indonesia, Feb. 15, 2007 American and Indonesian personnel at U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 2 here aim to help protect U.S. servicemembers deployed in tropical regions.
Lynne Pace, wife of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the unit Feb. 13 and met with most of the researchers. She was in Indonesia accompanying her husband, who was visiting with defense leaders here.
Seventeen Americans and 143 Indonesians serve on the research unit's staff. Pace praised the dedication of the entire team, and said the American researchers have volunteered for multiple tours.
"They are here for two years, but almost all extend (their tours)," she said. "They know they are doing something important to benefit everybody."
The unit's mission is to conduct research and tests in "tropical medical and infectious diseases to maintain and enhance the health, safety, and readiness of Navy and Marine Corps personnel in the performance of peacetime and contingency missions in Southeast Asia and other tropical and subtropical regions," according to unit officials.
The unit's scientists, doctors and technicians work with their Indonesian counterparts on researching malaria, dengue fever, the Hepatitis E virus, emerging infectious diseases and other health threats. A big part of their work lately has been research into avian influenza, or “bird flu.” Indonesia's National Institute of Health Research and Development hosts the American facility, unit officials said.
The unit spends about $5 million a year on salaries and goods from Indonesia, according to officials. Pace said that some of the equipment is purchased while other pieces of equipment are donated by U.S. and Indonesian charities and companies.
"The facilities are not what we are used to in the States," Pace said during an interview. "They do not have a big budget, but they make the most out of what they get."
The unit is very much on the front lines of fighting disease. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Indonesia has the largest number of avian flu patients. Joint avian flu monitoring by the unit and their Indonesian counterparts will help to pinpoint any outbreaks of the disease or help stop H5N1 bird flu from crossing to humans, officials said.
The research unit has found that the problem in Indonesia isn't the commercial farms, Pace said, but the "small farmers with chickens in the backyard." These families live with the birds and are most susceptible to contracting the disease.
The unit also has helped track hereditary factors in contracting SARS virus, and it continues to search for a malaria vaccine and studies drug-resistant parasites that cause malaria. In addition the research unit serves as a collecting point and a clearinghouse for information, officials said.
The unit has an outpost lab in Cambodia and a partner unit Naval Medical Research Unit No. 3 in Cairo.