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U.S. Navy Entomologists Take Malaria Fight to Sub-Saharan Africa

Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Larson, left, and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Edward Lopez test a Togolese villager for malaria during an Africa Partnership Station 2012 in Togo. US Air Force Photo

Recent attacks by sub-Sahara-based terrorist organizations brought into focus the U.S. military’s operations, but less noticed is the Navy’s increasing fight to help save lives in the region.

Since summer, Navy entomologists have taken an increased role fighting malaria in Africa, work with the potential to help millions of residents in many of the same countries U.S. special forces are fighting terrorist organizations.

Malaria prevention and control remains a major U.S. foreign assistance objective. The President’s Malaria Initiative coordinates a consortium of U.S. government civilian and military agency resources to fight malaria. According to a statement released by PMI, the fight against malaria aligns with the U.S. government’s strategy to prevent child and maternal deaths and end extreme poverty.

Providing such humanitarian assistance to local governments aligns directly with the U.S. military’s goals for helping stabilize these governments, said Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander U.S. Africa Command, during a March Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Waldhauser explained his focus for Africa Command was to continue working closely with African partner nations to “make small, wise investments which pay huge dividends in building stable and effective governments — the foundation for long-term security in Africa.”

He cited Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad as key allies in the ongoing U.S. military effort to contain and degrade the terrorist organization Boko Haram and its offshoot ISIS-West Africa in the greater Lake Chad basin, according to the 2017 Posture Statement released by U.S. Africa Command. Waldhauser also said Uganda hosts a cooperative security location, used as a staging location for rapid crisis response.

Meanwhile, the Navy has four uniformed entomologists fighting the spread of malaria in Cameroon and Uganda, along with Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, and Rwanda, a Navy spokesperson told USNI News. Other nations receiving U.S. aide fighting malaria include Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, and Niger, according to a statement released by the PMI.

“Navy entomologists work around the globe supporting research and vector control programs that enhance the force health protection of U.S. and partner militaries as well as the general public health of host countries we operate in, so it’s a natural fit for (Navy Entomology Center of Excellence),” said a statement released by Capt. Jeffrey Stancil, commander of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Navy Entomology Center of Excellence (NECE).

In Uganda, where Navy entomologists are leading PMI efforts, malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, accounting for between 30 and 50 percent of outpatient visits, and 15 to 20 percent of hospital admissions, according to PMI statistics. In Cameroon, all 22 million residents are at-risk for malaria, with children and pregnant women particularly vulnerable, according to a PMI.

When launched in 2005, the PMI’s goal was reducing malaria-related deaths by 50 percent across the sub-Saharan Africa countries with the highest malaria rates. Navy entomologists, working with the PMI, focus on four malaria prevention and treatment measures: insecticide-treated mosquito nets; indoor residual spraying; accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies; and preventive treatment for pregnant women.

Navy entomologists survey the specific mosquitoes in a given location, evaluate their genetic makeup and their resistance to insecticides. They also study data about the population at risk in a given area and develop strategies to help local health authorities combat malaria, according to a statement released by the Navy.

Additional uniformed entomologists support malaria research in Africa and the Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit-7, based in Rota, Spain, provides direct support to U.S. Africa Command for a variety of activities designed to prevent the spread of malaria, according to a Navy spokesperson.

  • Western

    I respectfully feel that the United States Navy has no business whatsoever creating or maintaining a “Navy Entomology Center of Excellence”.
    This function is more suited to the Center for Disease Control, United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, International Red Cross, or the dozens of other national and international agencies and organizations whose primary mission is health.
    The mission is admirable. The sailors doing the work commendable. However, I see nothing in the mission statement of the CNO or the historical known mission of the Navy that supports this initiative.

    • Barry Henderson

      I agree with you Western, scarse resources should be channelled into areas more relevent to USN

  • Ed L

    DDT works against malaria with no cancerous effects . Ruckelshaus, personal communication, 1972). I again read Woodwell’s testimony to determine whether that was true. The EPA lawyer (Mr. Butler) had stated: “I’d like to call our next witness, Dr. George M. Woodwell.” Notice that Butler said “our next witness.”
    In his final 113-page decision5 7 issued on April 25, 1972, Hearing Examiner Edmund Sweeney wrote: “DDT is not a carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic hazard to man. The uses under regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on fresh water fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds, or other wildlife…and…there is a present need for essential uses of DDT.”
    This decision, however, was overruled by EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus, who never attended a single day of the seven months of DDT hearings. In his 40-page Final Opinion, handed down on June 2, 1972, he omitted most scientific data, misnamed the major chemicals involved, and proposed that farmers “should use organophosphates, like carbaryl, instead.” (Carbaryl is not an organophosphate). He also recommended substituting parathion, a very deadly chemical, for DDT.5 8 He later wrote that “in such decisions the ultimate judgement remains political” (W. Ruckelshaus, letter to American Farm Bureau President Allan Grant, April 26, 1979).

    • CharlieC

      “We conducted standard insecticide susceptibility testing across western Kenya and found that the Anopheles gambiae mosquito has acquired high resistance to pyrethroids and DDT, patchy resistance to carbamates, but no resistance to organophosphates. Use of non–pyrethroid-based vector control tools may be preferable for malaria prevention in this region.” Emerging Infectious Diseases Volume 21, Number 12—December 2015. This is a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      • Ed L

        and Millions still die from malaria

        • El_Sid

          Talking to someone who worked in this field, apparently people in the countries affected are less bothered by they huge quantity of deaths from malaria because they tend to be young kids who have less economic impact. It’s not quite a question of shrugging their shoulders at what is obviously a tragedy on an individual level, but malaria is viewed with some equanimity. AIDS is a problem because it tends to hit those who are most economically active – young & middleaged men – and knock them out of the economy.

          I thought it was an interesting perspective at least.

  • Secundius

    US Army Major Dr. Walter Reed introduced “Entomology” into the US Army as early as c1900. After Soldiers returning from Tropical Postings were inflicted with Malaria and Yellow Fever…

  • Ed L

    Malaria back in America The number of malaria cases reported in the United States in 2011 was the largest since 1971, representing a 14% increase from 2010 and a 48% increase from 2008.

    • Secundius

      Keep in mind that Mandatory Vaccination in the United States started in 1905 and ended in 2001. When the US Government Found and/or Made-Up that it was No Long Necessary and too Costly. California is the ONLY State where Mandatory Vaccinations still exist. Every Where Else “Voluntary”. If you think a Parents “Newborn” is Vaccinated after Birth, Think Again…

  • Donald Carey

    While saving lives sounds marvelous, there is no mention of the effect that has on a region’s population growth. There are many areas in the so-called third world where the economy and ecosystem have been devastated by too rapid population growth fostered by well intentioned public health campaigns. (If you can’t think of any then you are sadly out of touch.) The U.S. should not do anything that would increase an area’s population growth without first addressing family planning.