PACIFIC OCEAN (July 27, 2012) – Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Harry Stege sprays insect repellent on articles of clothing aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy in preparation for Pacific Partnership 2012’s (PP12) arrival to Cambodia, July 28. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Clay M. Whaley/Released)

PACIFIC OCEAN (July 26, 2012) – In order for Pacific Partnership 2012’s (PP12) medical civic action projects (MEDCAPs) to be successful, a quiet force protection team fends off enemies of microscopic size as the USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) steams towards Cambodia.

The Preventative Medicine specialists of PP12 work behind the scenes to keep the mission healthy and strong.

The department’s primary role is to provide force health protection to PP12 staff members aboard USNS Mercy as well as ashore during mission ports.

U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Medina, Head of the Preventive Medicine Department, said force health protection is essential for protecting staff from infectious diseases, injuries and heat and chemical exposures that would affect the overall mission.

“If preventive medicine wasn’t here to support PP12, we would have many sick staff members and wouldn’t be able to carry out our mission,” he said.

Malaria, a debilitating condition caused by a parasite that is passed from infected mosquitoes to humans, is one infectious disease the department is taking steps to prevent during PP12.

The Center for Disease Control estimates there are 300 to 500 million new cases of malaria each year, and more than 1 million people die from it every year.

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Vincent Adriatico, Preventive Medicine Leading Petty Officer, said that to reduce the chance of staff members catching malaria, Preventive Medicine personnel have sprayed clothing items with insect repellent and prescribed anti-malaria medication for everyone aboard USNS Mercy.

“We’ve also been testing mosquitoes to see if the disease was present in mission areas and have then sprayed the infected areas to eliminate the local mosquito populations,” he said.

Medina said Preventative Medicine is the department everyone calls when they find something crawling, squirming or smelly onboard the ship.

“We try to investigate each case the best we can,” he said. “For example, one of the unique situations that occurred was when a live bat was found aboard USNS Mercy, and we were the first to know about it and to properly handle the situation.”

Preventive Medicine is comprised of five main divisions that includes force health protection, industrial hygiene, logistics and operations, public health communication and veterinary services.

“Each of our divisions play a unique key role in ensuring staff members stay healthy and mission ready,” Medina said. Preventive Medicine staff members don’t just focus on preventing diseases themselves, but also have a secondary mission which is to provide subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) to audiences on various educational preventive medicine topics.

“We are currently developing a ‘Teach the Teacher’ program to go into these host countries and teach teachers how to educate their students about basic sanitation and public health topics,” Medina said.

PP12’s Preventive Medicine department has a total of 33 staff members made up of three branches of U.S. military and five different partner nations.

“I think preventive medicine’s mission during PP12 has been a success, because we have extremely well trained and motivated staff members who have a lot of knowledge and experience,” Medina said.

Preventive Medicine plays an important role during PP12 and continues taking steps to ensure the safety of PP12 staff members as USNS Mercy prepares for its final host nation mission port in Cambodia.

Now in its seventh year, Pacific Partnership is an annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance mission U.S. military personnel, host and partner nations, non-governmental organizations and international agencies to build stronger relationships and develop disaster response capabilities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information about the PP12 mission, please visit the Pacific Partnership Blog or engage with Pacific Partnership on Facebook and Twitter.