ACCRA, Ghana, July 21, 2011 -- A team of U.S. Soldiers from the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit out of Connecticut, partnered with Ghana’s National Disaster Management Organization during MEDFLAG 11 to implement a malaria outreach program and train disaster volunteers on basic first aid skills.
The four-member team’s mission began when they contacted the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, office in Ghana, asking about ways in which they could volunteer and help. Since 2009, the USAID has funded a program called Promoting Malaria Prevention and Treatment, or ProMPT, as part of the President’s Malaria Initiative.
According to the Center for Disease Control, about 1 million people died in 2008 due to malaria. Children in sub-Saharan Africa were the largest affected group.
“[Malaria is] very widespread,” said Fred Atrisku, a National Disaster Management Organization, or NADMO, rescuer. “It’s the number one case that people report with at a health center.”
The USAID malaria specialist put the team in touch with three non-governmental organizations who are fighting to control the spread of malaria and ultimately eliminate the disease.
Following the receipt of training and materials, Capt. Jarrod Lynn, team leader, and Sgt. Bethany Seymour, civil affairs sergeant, teamed up with personnel from NADMO to visit local communities to educate people.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about malaria,” said Lynn, a New York City native.
The team has heard several tales about malaria’s cause and spread: eating too many fatty foods, flies spread the disease and dirty conditions. In reality, the female Anopheles mosquito transmits the malaria parasite.
The 411th team and NADMO personnel held talks at schools, public areas like markets, and the humanitarian civic assistance sites of MEDFLAG 11.
“The outreach is good,” said Atsriku, a native of the Greater Accra Region who translated the discussions into Ga, a local dialect. “It’s appropriate. It’s what we need.”
With a goal of behavior change, the team’s delivery focused on appealing to the practical side of people, specifically cost benefit analysis. For example, Seymour, a native of Derby, Conn., told her audience the price of an insecticide-treated mosquito net. She would then ask how much money would they lose for missing two weeks of work.
“You don’t just tell them,” said Lynn, a New York City native. “You get them to think it out.”
You want them to reach the conclusion on their own and have an “aha moment” explained Lynn. “If they think it themselves, they’re more likely to act on it.”
While Seymour and Lynn tackled malaria outreach together with NADMO, the other half of the 411th team, Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Ferrucci and Spc. Steve Comeau, taught about 400 NADMO volunteers basic first aid with the help of combat medics from the North Dakota Army National Guard’s 814th Medical Company.
Ghana has a complex disaster relief system that uses a network of disaster volunteer groups as frontline responders in communities across the regions. For many volunteers, this was their first time receiving medical instruction.
“Honestly, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had training others,” said Ferrucci, a native of Danbury, Conn. “They were eager to learn, basically hungry for knowledge.”
Subjects taught included recognizing and treating the three degrees of burns and heat-related injuries, like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The volunteers also learned how to stop bleeding and how to conduct cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“We’re very impressed by the level of commitment, bravery and intelligence of all the volunteers,” said Lynn. “They’re doing a lot with a very little.”
“I think it’s awesome to be here, because we can work here as partners with the Ghanaian army and NADMO,” said Seymour. “It’s not a usual opportunity.”
Sponsored by U.S. Army Africa and arranged by the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, the bilateral MEDFLAG 11 exercise began July 11, 2011, and strengthens the relationship between the U.S. and Ghana through 10 days of collaborative training and sharing of medical expertise, as well as joint humanitarian civic assistance in local communities.
“[MEDFLAG 11] has been very, very successful,” said Atsriku. “We hope it will be continued in the future.”
A key program in the United States’ efforts to partner with the government of Ghana, MEDFLAG 11 is the latest in a series of exercises involving U.S. military forces and African partner militaries with the aim of establishing and developing military interoperability, regional relationships, synchronization of effort, and capacity-building.
Headquartered in Vicenza, Italy, U.S. Army Africa is the Army Service Component Command for U.S. Africa Command. Dedicated to positive change in Africa, U.S. Army Africa enables full-spectrum operations while conducting sustained security engagement with African land forces to promote security, stability, and peace.