By Sgt. 1st Class Stephanie AbdullahDecember 11, 2019
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland - Lt. Col. Eric Garges was the recipient of the William Gorgas Preventive Medicine Award during the AMSUS annual meeting awards banquet on December 5, 2019,
Garges has served in the U.S. Army for 15 years and has been assigned to the Uniformed Services University (USUHS) for the last several years where he serves as the Director for the USUHS Division of Tropical Public Health and as an Associate Professor at the university.
"I was really surprised when I learned I was the recipient of this award," said Garges. "The person who submitted me for it is now retired and living in Utah and I had no idea he had submitted me. I'm very appreciative. This really says something about leadership. It says something about taking care of your people."
Garges described preventive medicine as the primary medical specialty that focuses on public health. He said in his specialty they are responsible for looking at populations and communities and figuring out how disease transfers in certain populations. Their goal is to drive training, information, and policies that focus on keeping the force healthy.
Military preventive medicine programs have influenced and informed those in the civilian sector, said Garges. "In the military, we've always understood the value of prevention. We know that the health of the force is directly related to the readiness of our force. We also know that prevention is more cost effective than treatment. In the last couple of decades, civilian health systems have focused on prevention. We've been focused on this in the Army for 150 years."
Garges has always had a particular interest in sexually transmitted infections. As a result, his volunteer work includes being a volunteer doctor at free clinics in the Washington, D.C. area as well as advocacy work related to HIV.
One thing that Garges said has fascinated him is the fact that service members are at higher risk for contracting STIs. "No matter, what we control for, the risks of infection goes up when you're a service member," he said. "For many years I've been interested in deep-diving into this area. Working at the university has given me the tools to be able to research this further. We are doing significant work in understanding these risks better in order to develop public health programs designed to address these risks."
The chlamydia rates are higher in female service members than other populations, said Garges. "Chlamydia is often asymptomatic and can lead to other serious conditions in women such as infertility." "Often times, they could be out of our populations by the time these affects are realized."
Garges said he is particularly passionate about generating data that would rally support to help address this concern. "When I do leave the Army, I'd like my legacy to include having helped build a case that generates policy, that reduces the burden of chlamydia on female service members," he said. "What I'd really like to see is a vaccine that addresses this as well as public health programs designed to reduce the risks."
Garges is married to a former Army nurse and said their two and four year olds keep him quite busy outside of work, but the Army has afforded him the opportunity to do the work he always wanted to do. "The Army has put together an outstanding preventive medicine team. I get to work with bright highly functioning people," he said. "And somehow, this has reflected positively upon me."