By Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Shepherd United States Army, Pacific, Public Affairs OfficeSeptember 18, 2007
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- Avian Influenza, or Bird Flu, has been responsible for the deaths of approximately 200 people world-wide, according to the World Health Organization website. Many of these deaths are in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand; all in the U.S. Pacific Command Theater of Operations.
In order to combat this, a joint medical team from Hawaii traveled to the Republic of Marshall Islands Sept. 9-10 to help present a vital piece of laboratory equipment at the Majuro Hospital which can be used to detect Avian Influenza and many other dangerous diseases.
Army Col. Michael Brumage, Public Health Emergency Officer for Joint Task Force Homeland Defense, was one of the team that made the trip to Majuro to present the Roche® LightCycler 2.0 laboratory machine, which employs advanced polymerase chain reaction technology, to the U.S. Embassy in RMI.
"It gives them a world-class diagnostic capacity in the Marshall Islands that never existed before," Brumage said.
The PCR machine is used to amplify DNA so lab workers can detect the presence of certain microorganisms that can cause disease.
The others members of the team included Navy Capt. Gail Hathaway, former officer in charge of the Navy Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit 6,and Air Force Lt. Col. Pete Breed from U.S. Pacific Command Surgeon's Office.
According to Hathaway, the PCR is used to detect viruses and other disease-causing microorganisms. They have a DNA structure and without a PCR, the viruses are difficult to detect rapidly.
"But for their day to day work load, they are very interested in using the technology for sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculoses," Hathaway said.
Ambassador Clyde Bishop, U.S. Ambassador to RMI, and the joint medical team presented the PCR to the laboratory in the Majuro Hospital. Brumage said the response from the workers was positive.
"(The lab technicians) were both excited and overwhelmed," he said. "When we left, they were excited about using the new piece of equipment and how to best use it."
The equipment shortcomings came to light during a three-day workshop conducted by the Pandemic Influenza Mobile Training Team from Hawaii in February 2007.
"Majuro hospital lab had personnel that were very well qualified and had the right lab set up to do higher level diagnostic testing for a number of infectious diseases," Brumage said. "They just needed the equipment."
Armed with this information, Joint Task Force Homeland Defense, Navy Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit 6, and Tripler Army Medical Center went to U.S. Pacific Command to request PCR equipment for the Majuro Hospital.
"This was an easy sell," Brumage said. "The idea was not only to increase their local capacity to test for different diseases but also help link them up through other governmental and nongovernmental agencies into a broader lab network.
"While they're not part of that at this point and time, we do have close collaboration with the Center for Disease Control and other nongovernmental organizations that will hopefully help build a lab surveillance network," he added. "Not only helps out the people of the Marshall Islands, but it also helps us here in Hawaii to detect diseases before they reach American soil."
Not only did the Majuro lab get a $70,000 piece of equipment, it received a laptop computer, a centrifuge, Class II biosafety cabinet, and medical gowns and gloves.
According to Hathaway, this gift is just the beginning. There are plans in the works to give other countries in the Pacific vital laboratory equipment that can help detect Avian Influenza and other diseases which will help keep Americans safe.