Medical team crucial to avoiding an epidemic|
by Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Thibault
Air Force Print News
1/20/2005 - UTAPAO, Thailand (AFPN) -- The tsunamis that devastated southern Asia left a breeding ground for an outbreak of diseases in their wake, which threatens both those displaced by the natural disaster and those involved in relief efforts.
Combined Support Force 536, as part of Operation Unified Assistance, is here to help prevent this threat from becoming a reality. It contains multiservice medical experts in epidemiology and public health.
The medics provide force-health protection for all servicemembers and support humanitarian efforts for affected people of the countries affected by the tsunamis.
The medics said they are tackling what may prove to be the biggest threat to these people, unless appropriate interventions are instituted.
“We’re here to reduce the risk of epidemics among (civilians) and any adverse health impact on the military mission,” said Lt. Col. Donald Noah, who is deployed with the CSF 536. Colonel Noah serves the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs as the military liaison to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The main threats to (people) here are diarrheal and respiratory diseases, malaria, cholera, dengue fever and malnutrition. If an epidemic were to occur, the potential exists for mass illness and even death,” he said.
Servicemembers are concerned about an epidemic outbreak, officials said, because a Marine has been reported as manifesting a meningitis-like illness during this deployment. Historically, diseases and nonbattle injuries outnumber battle casualties among servicemembers, officials said.
“What this means is, when correctly applied, epidemiology is a force multiplier,” Colonel Noah said.
The primary methods that officials said they use to control and prevent an outbreak are active surveillance and rapid intervention.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Colonel Noah said. “Therefore, we try to minimize that and deploy people into the affected areas to conduct health assessments.”
These rapid health assessments are usually conducted through surveys such as interviews and biological sampling. The gathered information is used to prioritize relief efforts, which start with providing food, water and shelter, officials said.
“We must tend to the acute, life-saving needs, (and) then we can move on to the lower tiers of treatment and prevention,” Colonel Noah said.
Humanitarian missions are not new to this team or to the military; however, no two humanitarian efforts are the same.
“Humanitarian relief operations are increasingly more frequent in post Cold-war operations,” Colonel Noah said. “But there is no book, no checklist to conduct operations; every scenario has different issues.”
Because the need is so great and the relief effort is still growing, the communication and coordination of efforts is a challenge for these medical experts, officials said.
“We have to focus on our coordination of effort to avoid gaps in our relief effort as well as redundancy,” Colonel Noah said.
The many facets of this humanitarian effort multiply this coordination focus.
“This is more than just a multiservice operation; it’s multicountry and includes governmental and nongovernmental agencies as well. Each brings (its) own agenda, language and methods,” said Maj. Tami Zalewski, of the CSF 536.
Although some people say it is not if an epidemic outbreak hits, but when, military medical officials said that is why they are here.
“We may not be successful in preventing every adverse health effect resulting from the (tsunamis), but I’d bet that many people here will live a longer, healthier life because we are here,” Colonel Noah said.