The Peruvian Armed Forces’ Joint Command (CCFFAA, in Spanish) concluded 2018 with the inauguration of a health education and prevention course for members of peacekeeping operations. The Tropical Diseases course, conducted with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Lima, gathered 60 units of the Peruvian, Colombian, and Salvadoran armed forces.
The objective of the course was to analyze tropical diseases that threaten service members deployed in peacekeeping missions. The course also sought to provide better knowledge on how to prevent endemic infectious diseases, such as dengue, zika, yellow fever, hemorrhagic fevers, and monkeypox, among others, with greater emphasis on malaria.
The course was taught with the support of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Institute for Medical Operations (DIMO). Four instructors taught the course under the leadership of U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jessica Cowden, chief of infectious disease programs. The loss of a Peruvian blue helmet deployed with the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA, in French) prompted the creation of the course.
“It was a very tough lesson learned that warned us about the risks and, above all, how it was addressed,” Peruvian Navy Petty Officer Second Class Edsson Evaristo Alvarado, CCFFAA analyst on peacekeeping operations and course organizer, told Diálogo. “It was in 2014 in Africa, where ebola was taking its toll, so they treated [the blue helmet] as if it were that disease. He was quarantined, and instead of treating him for malaria, they treated him for ebola, and he died.”
The five-day course was divided into two phases. During the initial theoretical phase, DIMO’s instructors shared their knowledge and experiences. They focused on preventing malaria, chemoprophylaxis—the use of medication to prevent a disease—severe malaria, malaria surveillance programs; and the history, transmission, and detection of the Ebola virus and monkeypox.
Instructors also addressed diseases transmitted through food and the sanitary conditions of dining areas. With the topics covered, they sought to promote prevention among military personnel deployed in peacekeeping missions.
“The idea is to prevent diseases, and doing research before going on a [peacekeeping] mission,” Peruvian Air Force Petty Officer Second Class Jacqueline Galarza López, who participated in the course before deploying to MINUSCA, told Diálogo. “We attend talks at the Peruvian Training and Instruction Center for Peacekeeping Operations, but in this seminar we saw instructions, experiences, and medical processes that take place upon return.”
The second phase, the hands-on part, required students’ active participation to conduct malaria diagnostic tests and blood sample observation under microscopes, among other procedures. “The U.S. personnel taught us how to do the tests and how to immunize uniforms, and they gave us clothes for the contingent that’s about to travel,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Galarza.
A benefit for the region
In addition to the Peruvian units to be deployed in January or February of 2019 to join the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, military health corps members also took part in the course. According to Petty Officer 2nd Class Alvarado, Colombian and Salvadoran personnel were invited to learn and share their experience.
“We convened the medical personnel from military institutions who deal with health issues of the personnel that takes part in peacekeeping operations, the nurse that administers vaccines, the doctor who provides medical certificates, and those who deal with epidemic issues in each institution, among others,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Alvarado said. “Participants included personnel we offered to the UN who have already been accepted.”
With its own experience in the field and the support of U.S. experts, Peru’s CCFFAA seeks to improve deployments and protect the health of its units in peacekeeping missions. When taught again, the course will be beneficial to regional partner nations that want to increase their participation in peacekeeping missions in countries prone to infectious diseases.
“Most importantly, during the course we realized that we are pioneers in South America in teaching it,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Alvarado concluded. “We learned and presented new things, and we expect to cover more at the national level. The service member leaves, but it’s a human being who returns, potentially bringing back an epidemic element.”