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Chairman Drops in on Navy Medical Research Lab in Peru

By Jim Garamone and Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump
American Forces Press Service

LIMA, Peru, March 4, 2009 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited an unheralded Navy medical research unit that is working with Peruvian military and civilian leaders and agencies to benefit the country, the region and the globe.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen deviated from his schedule to visit the medical researchers at the Naval Medical Research Laboratory Detachment here.

The detachment is one of five Navy facilities around the globe dedicated to the prevention of infectious diseases. The other facilities are in Indonesia, Kenya, Indonesia and Thailand. Though it’s a Navy facility, doctors from all U.S. services work there.

After the admiral visited with Peruvian officials as part of his trip to Latin America, he dropped by the facility, located at the Peruvian Naval Hospital.

“I visited your colleagues in Djakarta last year, and came away enormously impressed,” Mullen said to the staff. After he landed in Peru, the admiral remembered that another Navy lab detachment was in Lima and asked to visit.

The researchers are specialists who track dangerous diseases in an effort to stop the spread of those diseases and by finding vaccinations or cures for them. The detachment is working with Alerta, a new software package that makes it easy for physicians and other health care providers to report sicknesses. The Peruvian navy and the detachment worked together to put the system in place, and it has tracked outbreaks of infectious diarrhea, dengue fever and malaria.

The detachment also is working with the Peruvian armed forces to inoculate all servicemembers with a universal flu vaccine. This would mean a vaccine that wouldn’t have to be modified each year to account for different strains, officials explained.

The lab also is working on leishmaniasis – a disease transmitted by the bite of the sand fly. American troops stationed in the Middle East have gotten the parasitical disease, which troops often call the “Baghdad Boil.” Still, it is primarily a disease of the developing world and the researchers have developed a topical cream that is more effective and safer to use than the current treatment.

Mullen praised the doctors and other workers at the lab for their enthusiasm for the work and their commitment to relieving suffering. “You represent so much of what is good about America and the American military,” he said.

(Jim Garamone is an American Forces Press Service reporter. Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump serves in the Joint Staff public affairs office.)

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

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Special Report: Travels With Mullen

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