Photographer: Jonathan Thompson, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
This Veteran’s Day, we honor the military members both facing malaria abroad and fighting to end it here at home. Please read the below post, posted on Memorial Day, by Lieutenant Colonel Norman Waters is Director of the Military Malaria Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
Throughout this week of remembrance for our military members and veterans, it is important to recognize the adversaries our servicemembers face beyond those we traditionally expect. Too often, the health of our forces is jeopardized by endemic diseases in current theaters around the world, debilitating their mission-critical readiness and effectively removing the warfighter from the battlefield. This Memorial Day, our nation must persist in the fight against such endemic diseases as malaria, to ensure our servicemen and women remain able, agile, and ready.
Malaria has been a persistent foe of the U.S. military since its inception, dating back to the Revolutionary War, and it continues to negatively impact current operations throughout the world. With more than 200 million malaria infections worldwide, deployed military personnel are at risk of developing an infection that is known to impede mission success. Due to this grave hazard, malaria has been classified as the number one infectious disease threat to U.S. military forces.
From a Force Health Protection perspective, this translates into prioritizing the development of medical countermeasures to prevent malaria. Military scientists have raged a war against this disease to ensure that military operations are not affected or hindered by malaria. This, however, is not an easy task. The stealthy mosquito will find a way to evade bed nets and insect repellent in order take a blood meal and subsequently spread the malaria parasite.
Think about this: in a combat situation, how often is the malaria parasite considered a lethal enemy on the battlefield? It’s certainly not the first adversary that comes to mind. However, in a mission as recent as 2003, approximately 200 Marines deployed to Liberia, and about 80 of them contracted malaria. And malaria is not a new threat: during WWII, commanders complained of an unhealthy force due to malaria. Not only are combat operations affected by malaria, but so are humanitarian missions, such as hurricane relief in Haiti and responses to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
In response to this threat, the Department of Defense (DoD) has led the way in developing antimalarial drugs and malaria vaccine candidates. Most antimalarial drugs that have been used for prevention or treatment of malaria have been developed through some level of commitment from DoD. The world’s leading malaria vaccine candidates also got their start at DoD laboratories.
To this day, the U.S. military maintains a robust product development pipeline to develop the next generation of antimalarial countermeasures. Due to this highly adaptive parasite that can outpace new therapies through biological adaptations, product development efforts must continue to capture innovative technologies that accelerate the time to bring safe and effective drugs and vaccines to the market. DoD has a 120-year legacy of advanced capabilities honed to battle malaria. Today, the global efforts to eliminate and eradicate malaria are led by government and philanthropic organizations and supported by academic and industry partners. At the root of this global effort lies the wealth of DoD knowledge, tools, and resources which have greatly benefited and improved global health in the fight against malaria.
As others join the fight and acquire capabilities to push the fight towards victory, one thing will remain the same: Soldier-scientists will be mission focused on protecting our comrades in arms, and those partners and the Nation are counting on us to protect the force.
Author Lieutenant Colonel Norman Waters is Director of the Military Malaria Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR).