SANTIAGO, Chile –
Military doctors and veterinarians from the Chilean Army, U.S. Army, U.S Air Force and the Uruguayan Navy gathered in Santiago, Chile, for a vector control practices seminar April 17-18, hosted by the Chilean Army Health Command and sponsored by U.S. Army South.
The primary focus for this professional military to military engagement is to keep service members and civilians safe from insect- and other vector-borne diseases in a variety of austere environments during wartime, humanitarian disaster response and peace keeping mission.
The importance of identifying vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Zika and others early plays an important role in military planning and operations.
“The threat of a vector-borne illness is a very serious issue,” said U.S. Army South’s Maj. Alejandro Bonilla, an environmental science officer with the Army Chief of Staff-Medical. “A malaria outbreak can kill more people than any other disease. The Department of Defense is constantly proactive and is always looking for ways to improve in identifying and dealing with vector-borne illnesses before a potential pandemic or outbreak occurs.
“Sharing best practices and lessons learned with our military partners in this type of forum is important because we all bring a wealth of knowledge which strengthens our interoperability,” Bonilla added. “We benefit from these exchanges because each military has different methods and practices. We always learn something new which makes our militaries stronger in the area of force health protection.”
Throughout the seminar, between presentations and lectures, soldiers from the Chilean Army Veterinary Service had the opportunity to apply what they learned during several practical pre-deployment risk assessment exercises in which they evaluated potential vector borne diseases. Together, they analyzed a variety of data and developed a list of recommendations for the best course of action to mitigate health risks.
“The course information is very useful, because here in Chile, we have several vectors that we are aware of and it’s important to help us identify and prevent a possible outbreak. It also will help us identify the development of any new disease,” said Maj. Alex Betzhold, a veterinary advisor and planner from the Chilean Army Veterinary Service. “It’s interesting to learn about new field sampling techniques and the process for analyzing that information and then taking appropriate measure to protect our military forces.”
Presenters included U.S. Army veterinarians from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a medical doctor and infectious disease specialist from the U.S. Air Force’s Defense Institute for Medical Operations, or DIMO, and a medical doctor and infectious disease specialist from the Uruguayan Navy.
As the Army Service Land Component to U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Army South works closely with partner nation armies and defense forces in Central and South America to strengthen security cooperation throughout the western hemisphere.