VICENZA, Italy - The continent of Africa is home to many tropical diseases, which cause illness and, in some instances, death. Tropical diseases wreak havoc on the social and economic growth of the continent and affect the health and welfare of those who travel.

To combat the affects of tropical diseases, and to ensure the health and safety of all Soldiers operating in the U.S. Africa Command operational area, the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, in coordination with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, has resurrected the teaching of its formerly defunct Tropical Medicine Course (TMC) and revamped it for the 21st century.

The TMC was first taught in 1941 and discontinued in 1991, after 50 years. It was resurrected in 2010 in response to the operational needs of AFRICOM and the Special Operations Command.

Once a six-week long course, the TMC has been converted to a targeted short course, and tailored toward non-physician health care providers. The week-long class is now a requirement for all medical professionals deploying to provide health care on the African continent, said Capt. Gabrielle Caldara, environmental science officer with U.S. Army Africa's Command Surgeon's Office.

Caldara, Sgt. 1st Class Roddy Rieger, the CSO's NCOIC, and Staff Sgt. Darren Jones, a medical NCO with USARAF Headquarters Support Company, were the first Army Africa personnel to attend the re-designed class Sept. 13-17 at Walter Reed in Silver Spring, Md.

The course focused on deploying personnel's ability to recognize, diagnosis and treat a range of tropical diseases and ailments that can affect Soldiers who work and travel throughout Africa, said Rieger.

"There were a lot of lectures, seminars and hands on lab practices on things such as leishmaniasis and malaria," he said. "We learned better ways to recognize symptoms and better ways to treat the problems."

A Rapid Diagnostic Test taught as one segment of the TMC is one tool students are taught to screen patients for malaria. The test uses only a pinprick amount of blood and "is as simple as using a pregnancy test," Rieger said.

"This particular test allows medical professionals the freedom and convenience to test for the disease without requiring transporting the patient to a medical facility," Caldara said.

While Caldara and Rieger said they were impressed by the advances in treatment of many tropical diseases, Caldara stressed that preventative measures and education remain key factors in disease prevention for those who deploy.

"This was a great class to understand the intricacies of these diseases, but in the end it all goes back to basics," she said. "Proper precautions such as uniform treatment, use of DEET/insect repellent, adherence to proper medications and use of a bed net are essential."