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Preventive Medicine Will Key Health Care Concerns in Bosnia

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 1995 – Top DoD officials stressed the importance of preventive medicine in maintaining the health of personnel deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in a Pentagon press conference. 

By preparing troops before deployment, health officials hope to prevent illness and injuries in the war-torn nation.


In the press conference outlining personnel, finance and health issues, defense undersecretary Edwin Dorn said preventive medicine is one of the military health care system's strongest aspects.


"Our troops receive extensive training on personal health care, and they receive updates specifically on the Bosnian theater," said Dorn. "They'll be immunized against the relevant health risks, and we'll take particular care to provide them safe food and drinking water."


In addition, service members are receiving pamphlets that advise them on steps to maintain their health. These guidelines include tips for eating and personal hygiene,  frostbite and heat injury prevention, and avoiding contact with animals, rodents and people in overcrowded living conditions.


Dr. Stephen Joseph, assistant defense secretary for health affairs, said the war decimated Bosnia's health infrastructure, opening the country to contagious disease. "In addition to food and water-borne diseases, there are a number of insect, tick and mite, and animal-borne diseases," said Joseph. "Bosnia is not a tropical environment, but the environment there presents a very broad array of disease hazards."


Because of these potential health hazards, Joseph said, preventive medicine teams in Bosnia will be scanning for disease patterns and environmental hazards.


To help prevent illness, Joseph said, most soldiers received inoculations before deploying. These include hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine, tetanus/diphtheria, influenza, typhoid, measles/rubella vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine. Joseph added troops also received tuberculosis and HIV screening.


Should injury or illness occur, Dorn said, the forces will have health care facilities both in the field and at European bases. "We also have the best MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) capability in the world to get them to the right treatment facility as quickly as possible," said Dorn.


Also, Dorn said DoD intends to track service members in Bosnia for medical needs connected with their deployment. The support will include medical screening, individual counseling, medical information and referrals, if needed.

Joseph said because of experiences in the Persian Gulf War, DoD made some significant changes to its medical policies and practices. He said these practices will provide better health care and preventive medicine in the field during deployment. They also put health officials in a position to look backward with greater accuracy than before.

While military medical personnel deploy to support the Bosnia mission, both Dorn and Joseph said, routine health care services for remaining troops and family members will continue. "We'll do that by replacing any medical personnel who deploy to Bosnia with reserve component medical personnel from the United States," said Dorn. "Families at home should see no interruption in their health care service."

Joseph said besides the reserves, people supported by DoD's TRICARE program will continue receiving coverage. He said part of the TRICARE contract commits them to backfill active duty positions until the reserve personnel arrive.

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