Countering health threats before deploying
April 26, 2011
Anyone who has ever deployed knows there are many protective actions that need to be taken prior to going overseas.
Servicemembers often create Family care plans to ensure their children have care if needed, write wills to ensure smooth transfers of assets, just in case, and get vaccinated to protect themselves against diseases.
Often, questions arise about the destination. Questions include what type of health threats are present in the region or what are the most common injuries in the area'
The U. S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional)'s Health Information Operations Program can provide answers.
Based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., HIO identifies known and emerging health threats everywhere Soldiers go and provides information on how to counter them. Its products are available on the Web or in print to military units and medical personnel.
The office is focused on empowering military personnel to protect their health by putting health information at their fingertips through its electronic catalog of health information products.
"The catalog covers the entire spectrum of public health issues," said Shawn Bowman, HIO program manager.
Whether a Soldier or preventive medicine, public health or health care professional is looking for the latest information about how to protect against heat injury or what type of arachnids inhabit Iraq or Afghanistan, HIO's e-catalog likely has it.
The program had a humble beginning, said Kevin Delaney, the deputy chief of staff for communication at the USAPHC (Prov).
"We started producing and distributing health information when mad cow disease was plaguing Europe," Delaney said. "I used to keep all of our products in a box under my desk."
After 9/11 however, the office became inundated with requests for health information products on anthrax, and the number of products outgrew the storage area under Delaney's desk.
"In May 2001, we had 30 products on hand. Today, more than 300 products are stored in the HIO warehouse," Delaney said.
During the past 10 years, the range of subjects and product volume has grown proportionately. HIO now produces a wide array of materials, from information on how to protect against injuries to information on responding to earthquakes and other natural disasters.
"We have shipped more than 15 million products to our customers worldwide," said Bowman.
HIO draws heavily on USAPHC (Prov)'s medical, technical and health-education professionals to ensure that the information it provides is accurate and up to date.
"We're experts in recognizing emerging public health issues, in translating scientific and medical language so that people can understand it, and in targeting the people who need the information through our distribution system," Bowman explained. "We tap into a broad range of in-house expertise to ensure we have the right information.
"Public Health Command has more than 60 different medical and scientific specialties that we can access," Delaney added. "There are doctors, nurses, environmental engineers, industrial hygienists and social workers, to name but a few."
Although a majority of the products the HIO creates are designed and produced in-house, the HIO consults with such agencies as the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Medical Intelligence, the Pacific Disaster Center, the U.S. Army Training & Doctrine Command, the Naval Health Research Center and the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, among others, to create its products, said Essie Pfau, an HIO health information specialist.
The personnel in the HIO said they are continually amazed at the far-reaching effect of the products they create. Requests for health information come in from all over the world, since a ".mil" e-mail address is all that's needed to place an order.
Not only does the office create health information products in English, but many of them are available in Spanish, French, Korean, Japanese, Arabic and other languages.
"Our military is diverse, and we constantly have to adapt to meet the needs of our Soldiers," said Allan Meseroll. Meseroll is the man who almost single-handedly packages and labels outgoing material.
"We regularly service the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard," said Lola Daniels, production and distribution manager for the e-catalog.
HIO personnel said they are ultimately concerned about positively affecting the health of military personnel in the field.
A former environmental science officer for the Army, Bowman knows firsthand how important the distribution of public health information can be to troops in the field. He said injury and illness prevention help pave the way to health for military personnel.
"My hope is that our products can influence Soldiers to engage in healthy behavior," Bowman said. "Even if they are already knowledgeable about some of the health care topics, these products serve as reminders to them to be safe and healthy."
In addition to shipping products, the HIO also maintains a Health Information Weekly Update, sent electronically to more than 4,000 medical and health professionals around the globe. The office is also responsible for producing medical threat briefings-presentations that educate deploying personnel about the health threats and risks present in a specific area.
The HIO staff members feel strongly about their profession and the services they provide. The majority of them have earned master's degrees in their respective fields, and they agree that promoting the health of those who serve is paramount.
"We are passionate about providing health information so our military and civilian personnel can receive the knowledge to make good decisions," said Eileen Resta, a health information specialist. "We are constantly looking at ways to improve public health."
"We hope to develop products that are more interactive," added Carrie Kilby, a registered nurse and health information specialist. "We are striving to utilize technology and tailor our products to meet individual needs."
The responsibility of creating and distributing more than 5,000 orders per year can take its toll on the HIO staff, but a sense of gratitude and purpose keeps them motivated.
"I chose a career in this field because I wanted to make a difference," said Pfau. "The Soldiers sacrifice a lot for us, and helping to produce these products is the least we could do in return."
For more information on HIO services, visit https://usaphcapps.amedd.army.mil/hioshoppingcart/.
Chanel S. Weaver works for U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) Public Affairs.