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USU faculty advance public health capabilities, develop training and vector management plan for Suriname

By Lt. Cmdr. James C. Dunford, Ph.D.

As part of an ongoing international collaboration aimed at advancing public health capabilities, Dr. James English and I -- both assistant professors in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics at Uniformed Services University -- visited the Suriname Bureau of Public Healthcare (BOG) in June to facilitate mosquito identification training and develop an integrated vector management plan for the country.

I had a chance to travel into the field near the capital city of Paramaribo to learn how local experts collect mosquitoes and bring samples back to lab to identify them as part of a project that will list and provide identification resources for the mosquitoes known to occur in country, highlighting the ones capable of transmitting diseases. Knowing which species occur in-country, notably the ones capable of transmitting pathogens, will increase our understanding of the role mosquitoes play in transmitting endemic and emerging vector-borne diseases in the region.

a group stands for a photo outside a building
Dr. English in laboratory working on national integrated vector management plan and insecticide field evaluation.(Photo by Lt. Cmdr. James Dunford, USU)

Dr. English started working with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) back in 2015, providing integrated vector management (IVM) expertise to Ministries of Health in the region, which eventually led to our recent work in Suriname. He, in consultation with his contacts at PAHO headquarters in Washington D.C., worked with PAHO vector biology experts in Suriname to deliver a custom designed ‘Capacity Building’ training engagement tailored to the needs and interests of mosquito control technicians at the BOG in March of 2018. At the end of that course, the Ministry of Health requested additional support in developing a national IVM plan and implementing a new IVM program. This led to more in-depth training and support requests on topics such as mosquito identification, building an insecticide resistance monitoring and management plan as part of the overall IVM plan, and field testing new public health pesticides to support the IVM plan.

a man holds a tube
LCDR Dunford with aspirator device used to
collect mosquitoes in the field. (Photo by Dr.
James English, USU)
These types of engagements and real-world experiences are beneficial to our overall understanding of vector and pathogen ecology, and also play a significant role in enhancing our teaching and research endeavors at USU. USU’s joint military medical mission, intra/interagency stakeholders and international collaborators such as those in Suriname present unique elements to graduate level education. Our Vector Biology Lab faculty in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics routinely foster collaborations with agencies/commands such as the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch-Global Emerging Infections Surveillance, Armed Forces Pest Management Board, Navy Entomology Center of Excellence, Army Public Health Center, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and PAHO. Working alongside those agencies will better prepare our faculty and, in turn, our military student population for real-world public health experiences.

In parallel with these experiences, we are developing a curriculum for preventive medicine students with a focus on vector biology/entomology leveraging our experiences in the global health engagement arena. We have a "menu" of training modules that we can build along with our international partners -- lectures, hands-on skills, equipment usage -- all the same skills, knowledge, and abilities we then teach to military entomologists and preventive medicine technicians in the DoD, enhancing our public health programs globally.

people work in a lab
Dr. English in laboratory working on national integrated vector management plan and insecticide field evaluation.(Photo by Lt. Cmdr. James Dunford, USU)

While USU continues to produce the DoD’s finest physicians and healthcare scientists, there are growing mission areas that USU’s training programs and unique position within the DoD can use to increase the overall readiness of the U.S. military. As a Navy Entomologist specializing in disease vector biology, these types of overseas engagements help me grow professionally, enabling me to make programmatic changes to improve student training here at USU and foster international research projects in critical areas such as biosurveillance to better prepare for, and respond to, complex emerging health crises with international partners.

“While we offer a wide array of disease vector-related training/capacity building modules, usually a country asks for training in a single, specific capability,” notes Dr. English. “Our work in Suriname is closer to ideal because we're building on what we helped initiate. We know the skills they have, what equipment they have, what their challenges are, what their needs are. It's great to be able to have sustained support like we've been having with Suriname, so we can see some of the same people repeatedly, and see the country's capabilities grow.”