Stuttgart: Two new task forces being stood up by US Africa Command have set their sights on one of the biggest killers on the continent: the mosquito.
Malaria — that same affliction that decimated Roman legions, Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers and a scourge in the South Pacific during World War II — continues to plague Africa, particularly the sub-Saharan region. Ninety percent of the world’s malaria-related deaths are reported in Africa, and the disease kills some 600,000 African children each year.
The toll is so devastating that it overshadows Africa’s other medical challenges, including HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, Army Col. (Dr.) John Andrus, Africom’s deputy surgeon and medical logistics division chief, told American Forces Press Service.
And beyond the pure humanitarian toll, there’s an operational one, too. Last year, during Africom’s World Malaria Day observance, a soldier from an African partner nation told Andrus malaria is one of the biggest concerns among his troops deploying for peacekeeping operations across the continent. “This was a real eye opener to us,” he said.
Africom incorporates malaria prevention into much of its theatre engagement, distributing mosquito nets and teaching new diagnostic techniques during training events throughout Africa.
But at the African soldier’s suggestion, Africom went to work to establish regional task forces to help partner nations create a unified front against the problem. The command stood up the East African Malaria Task Force in December with plans to form a similar task force in West Africa by the year’s end, Andrus reported.
The East African task force includes Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania. The United States is a member, but has no leadership role, Andrus said. “The task force is led by the African partners who are members,” he said.
The task force plans to meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in late July to discuss their battle plan for combating the disease, Andrus said. They’re expected to identify ways to encourage self-protection while promoting improved surveillance, diagnosis and treatment.
“This will give them an opportunity to move forward against a very challenging disease in a very positive way,” he said.
Meanwhile, the first meeting of the new West Africa Malaria Task Force is scheduled for November.
Andrus called the task forces an example of the command’s goal of helping African nations confront African problems.
“This is a wonderful example of what it means to work with our partners, assist them in coming up with solutions to their own challenges, and then to be a partner with them as we move toward addressing those challenges,” he said.
Ultimately, this supports the concept of “stability through health,” Andrus said. Helping partner nations protect their military forces against disease supports the bigger goal of establishing professional militaries that are trusted by their populations and able to respond to crises, he explained.
It also builds confidence within partner-nation militaries that they will be taken care of when they are called on to carry out their missions, he said. “If they can deploy forward, knowing that they are able to receive the health care they need, it gives them confidence they need to be able to perform in a way that promotes stability on the continent,” he said.
While helping partner nations confront malaria, Africom also ensures US service members who deploy to Africa are protected, Andrus said.
The Kelley Health Clinic here recently celebrated its one-year anniversary as a one-stop shop for Africom members travelling to the continent. It provides health screenings, immunizations, malaria prophylaxis and mosquito repellents.
“The first step is to get to know who you’re fighting,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) 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, officials recognize the importance of keeping them healthy.
“Each person is critical,” said Army Lt. Col Jose Nunez, chief of the command’s health protection branch. “If you have one person go down, that person can’t do his or her job.”