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Djibouti Honors U.S. Navy Surgeon General for Medical Work

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2010 – The U.S. Navy Surgeon General has received Djibouti’s highest honor for work performed in that country by the men and women of Navy medicine to enhance infectious disease surveillance there and in the region.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr. receives the Djibouti Medal of the Commander of the National Order, that nation's highest award, by Djibouti Prime Minister Dileita Mohamed Dileita. Robinson accepted the award on behalf of the U.S. Navy Medical Research Unit-3, whose work over the past decade has enhanced infectious disease surveillance in Djibouti. U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Cappy Surette

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Over the past decade, scientists from U.S. Navy Medical Research Unit 3 based in Cairo, Egypt, have worked in Djibouti to develop surveillance systems for contagions like malaria, tuberculosis and flu that affect servicemembers deployed there and the people of Djibouti and the Horn of Africa.

“It was quite an honor to receive the Djiboutian Commander of the National Order medal because it represents the work of NAMRU-3,” Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) Adam Robinson told American Forces Press Service.

“It represents the men and women from Navy medicine who have come to help not only with health protection for our forces and for other allied forces there,” Robinson added, “but also to help the Djiboutian population [with] public health, sanitation, water and infectious diseases.”

Prime Minister Dileita Mohamed Dileita presented Robinson the award in Djibouti Nov. 14.

Robinson said countries that make up the Horn of Africa host forces from the United States, Japan, France and many other nations.

“From a force-health-protection perspective,” he said, “we need to make sure we understand those [endemic infectious] diseases and how we can treat them and how we can prevent them, if at all possible.”

As the scientists of NAMRU-3 work on diseases and public health infrastructure, Robinson said, “we like to partner with the host nation in helping build up the resources they need to do the same for their population.”

In a triangular, 1.2-hectare compound in eastern Cairo, in the shadow of the 1,500-bed Abbassia Fever Hospital, a team of Navy and Army scientists, U.S. civilian employees, Egyptian scientists and technicians, and contractors staff the 63-year-old NAMRU-3.

NAMRU-3 started in Egypt in 1942 as a way for the U.S. National Typhus Commission to control outbreaks of that bacterial disease among the forces fighting World War II, Robinson said. By 1946 NAMRU-3 was a going concern.

The direct mission of NAMRU-3, he said, is to support U.S. military personnel in the region by studying viruses, intestinal diseases and disease carriers, called vectors, like ticks and mosquitoes.

The organization’s medical scientists also perform and teach disease surveillance, which means keeping track of the most important local infectious disease threats.

In these efforts they work closely with the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population, other countries’ ministries of health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health.

Today, Robinson said, NAMRU-3 is the largest military overseas laboratory in the world.

“We’ve developed partnerships with host nations throughout Africa, Asia and South America based on force protection, global health, disease surveillance and public health infrastructure,” he said.

Disease surveillance is a system that can be established or enhanced in any country, Robinson said.

“So we can look at a specific disease, for instance malaria,” he said. “We can look at where it’s striking, what population it’s striking and how it’s infecting the population.”

Surveillance teams also look at the mosquito and the mosquito-control element that has to do with malaria, and perform vaccine preparation and research to try to stop malaria from spreading.

“Then we need to make sure that we educate not only our nation but also scientists in our organization and scientists in the global health community so they will understand what we’re doing and what we’re accomplishing in terms of treating different diseases and developing new vaccines,” Robinson said.

“I took malaria as an example but you can do the same thing with tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases and with zoonotic diseases that are passed from wild animals and cattle to people,” he added.

NAMRU-3 scientists also engage in an activity not in the official NAMRU mission statement -- they make sure they are good neighbors, passing along the benefits of science and medical research to the institutions and citizens of nearby nations.

Robinson and others call it medical diplomacy.

“Medical diplomacy is the way to communicate with men and women because medicine, very much like music, is an international language,” Robinson said.

In Djibouti, NAMRU-3 has been a major partner in helping secure education and knowledge “so we can help them as they establish their public health departments and their public health infrastructure,” he said.

“That means training physicians and scientists,” he added, “and helping developing laboratory capacity, laboratory equipment and the kinds of things that will allow the Djiboutians to have a very solid public health system.”

Partnering with scientists and communities in nations around the world, Robinson said, “the men and women of Navy medicine help build security and in doing that we also build hope.”


Contact Author

Navy Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr.

Related Sites:
Navy Medical Research Unit 3, Cairo

Related Articles:
DOD Center Tracks Health, Illness in U.S. Forces


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