WASHINGTON, DC—The government of Djibouti recently honored Navy medicine’s efforts to help the country improve its public health system.
The US Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm Adam Robinson Jr, MD, received the Medal of the Commander of the National Order by Djibouti’s prime minister. The medal is the highest award that can be given by the African country and was presented to Robinson due to the work by US Navy Medical Research Unit (NAMRU-3) to enhance infectious disease surveillance within Djibouti.. “It was a wonderful award and I am very humbled by it,” Robinson told U.S. Medicine in an interview. “The award was given to me, but it is not really the surgeon general’s award but it belongs to Navy medicine.”
NAMRU-3 got its start in Egypt in 1942 by the US National Typhus Commission to control outbreaks of typhus, which was killing many servicemembers and locals in the area. The unit was officially stood up as a Navy medical research unit in 1946. It is the largest DoD overseas laboratory, with biosafety level 3 biocontainment space and field and hospital study sites located throughout Egypt.
The unit conducts research and surveillance to support military personnel deployed to Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia. The mission also includes the evaluation of vaccines, therapeutic agents, diagnostic assays, and vector control measures.
Robinson explained that naval medical research units, such as NAMRU-3, are instrumental in protecting the health of the military where they deploy. “The NAMRUs are looking at disease surveillance, specifically infectious disease surveillance. They are also looking to help develop surveillance systems in countries, so that the public health infrastructure can be informed by what diseases may be affecting the population. Whatever is affecting the local population will also affect those men and women in our armed forces who are deployed there … We actually try to help the countries improve their surveillance and by doing that we improve our ability to understand what diseases our people need to contend with.”
Infectious Disease Surveillance in Djibouti
The Navy has had a strong partnership with Djibouti, according to Robinson. He noted that medicine and healthcare is a “common language” around the world. “Health leads to security and security leads to stability.”
Scientists with NAMRU-3 have worked with the Djiboutian government to develop infectious disease surveillance systems, prevention, and
responses to infectious diseases. “We’ve had a hospital based-surveillance program that we conducted to look at acute respiratory infections, including tuberculosis and also looking at acute febrile illnesses and acute diahhreal diseases.”
In addition, scientists with the unit have helped the country with infrastructure to address HIV/AIDs and STDs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. “We went through the process of not only helping to have a referral center for the country, so that there would be adequate laboratory and testing for these diseases, but also we went through a lot of educational materials in trying to prevent these diseases.”
In addition, the Navy unit has also helped with vector surveillance, among other things.
The Naval unit continues to work with Djibouti to build its public health infrastructure.
In November, Robinson attended a scientific conference that was the first of its kind hosted by the country. Government and civilian health industry leaders gathered to discuss ways to integrate efforts to strengthen public health programs throughout the Horn of Africa. The conference was developed in partnership with NAMRU-3, the US Agency for International Development, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, and many other international health organizations.