AFRICOM observes worldwide malaria initiative

U.S. Africa Command observed the World Health Assembly’s World Malaria Day April 25 in recognition of the global effort to provide effective control of malaria.
Stationed under a tent adjacent to the Kelley Theatre and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Malaria Bites,” AFRICOM medical experts handed out fliers, talked about mosquito nets and sprays, and offered the curious a chance to look at some of the common malaria-carrying mosquitoes and their larvae under a microscope.

The information was geared mostly toward AFRICOM personnel who may travel to Africa, where malaria is one of the most serious health threats they’ll face.
“The first step is get to know who you’re fighting,” said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Steven Baty, a veterinary epidemiologist for Public Health Command Region-Europe. “If we can identify the mosquitoes in the area that are going to carry malaria, then we can look at prevention programs.”

Because AFRICOM personnel often travel in small groups to the continent, it’s important to stay healthy. “Each person is critical,” said Lt. Col. Col. Jose Nunez, chief of the AFRICOM Health Protection Branch. “If you have one person go down, that person can’t do his or her job.”

The health clinic annex at Kelley Barracks is a “one-stop shop” for personnel traveling to Africa. The clinic provides health screenings, immunizations, malaria prophylaxis and mosquito repellents.

“It is the best travel readiness clinic in the entire [Department of Defense],” said Dr. (Maj.) Robert Holmes, AFRICOM’s infectious disease physician.
The clinic celebrated its one-year anniversary this week. Holmes said the clinic handled 3,500 patient visits in its first year, including about 750 related to travel to Africa. “It’s a huge capability,” Maj. Gen. Barbara Faulkenberry said of the clinic, an arm of the main Army health clinic on Patch Barracks.

Treated mosquito nets are also available to personnel traveling to Africa.
Mosquito nets are one of the best ways to prevent malaria, and are a focus of some of AFRICOM’s outreach efforts to partner nations. In March as part of an ongoing effort, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa handed out some 18,000 nets to residents in Ethiopia.

Other AFRICOM initiatives to combat the spread of malaria include a series of training events in Tanzania designed to improve diagnostic techniques, and a malaria awareness event during the annual MEDFLAG exercise last year in Ghana.
U.S. Africa Command has also established an East African Malaria Task Force.

The task force formed in December and will meet July 24–26 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to discuss ways to combat the disease, which kills some 600,000 African children each year, said Dr. Refaat Hanaa, an AFRICOM epidemiologist.
Beside Tanzania, other partners in the task force are Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda.