Welcome to you, new NAMRU: NAMRU-6 grows up!

by Craig Hooper on February 15, 2011

In a quiet, little-reported move, Navy Times tells us that NAMRU-6 is now a full-fledged command:

A small medical research department the Navy established in Peru three decades ago to study tropical and infectious diseases such as malaria became a full-fledged command Feb. 10.

Naval Medical Research Department – Lima got a new name – Navy Medical Research Unit 6 – during a ceremony in Lima attended by Rear Adm. Eleanor Valentin, who commands U.S. Navy Support Command, and Peruvian navy officials, Navy medicine officials announced.

The move puts the new unit – which as 11 officers, two sailors, three civilians and 305 Peruvian civilian workers – on par with Navy medicine’s two other overseas research units: NAMRU 3 in Cairo, Egypt, and NAMRU 2 in Hawaii.

Navy Times kind of forgot that somebody important had stopped by earlier:

While in Lima, Mabus also officiated at a christening ceremony for the Naval Medical Research Center Unit (NMRU) 6 building, where he made brief remarks and unveiled a plaque commemorating the unit’s establishment. NMRU 6 partners with the Peruvian Army and Navy to conduct research on a wide range of infectious diseases that threaten the population in the region.

This is great news!  Congrats to NAMRU-6!  Here’s a little more from the Naval Medical and Research Development Command newsletter (PDF).

If the SECNAV’s active interest isn’t enough of a signal, the U.S.  needs more of these interesting and useful facilities.  There is no contesting that the Navy’s role in researching infectious diseases and bolstering public health systems is longstanding.  The work serves a strategic purpose and directly supports the warfighter.  We will need to do more of this in the future.

What I would be very interested in seeing is a floating public health laboratory–perhaps in a future Pacific Partnership or Global Fleet  Station craft.  It’d be great to have trained folk available to meet and work with local public health people in the littorals (and perhaps crop disease prevention workers and vets as well).  As far as health goes, this is one particular place where the NAMRUs can be really useful in guiding  longer-term U.S. Navy coordination with the locals–versus the usual grab-bag of “get ’em in, get ’em out” community medical triage exercises.

Look.  Plenty of emergent epidemics are detected when a local, working on nothing more than a shoestring and a hunch, calls a pal in the West.  So…giving, say, a resident

agriculture worker a means to recognize, oh, Wheat Rust or teaching local docs to screen for multiple drug-resistant TB is a big deal.  Just having a friend outside a host country’s normal, sclerotic (or nonfunctional) public health/ag health bureaucracy to call and help confirm observations is a big bonus for everybody–the Navy, the U.S., the host country and the region.  So, with that in mind, I’m thrilled to see NAMRUs getting some attention.

(I’m still upset that nobody in the U.S. covered the effort to boot NAMRU-2 from Indonesia. Mph.)

Anyway, with NAMRU-6’s promotion, I hope more of these useful and cost-effective NAMRU command/host nation collaborations are set up over the next few years.  I also hope that we see some NAMRU-oriented activities incorporated in the Partnership cruises or Global Fleet Station visits.

It would be particularly awesome to see the establishment of an “afloat” NAMRU–imagine the formation of a semi-mobile group of 10-12 researchers able to deploy aboard, say, a JHSV.  That’d be really neat addition to any future Global Fleet Station.  And you’d make Chris Albon‘s day, too.

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February 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm

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CapnVan February 25, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Craig — those are fair points in argument.

I would argue that USAID is a better fit for what CDC is doing in the particular case that I mentioned, but I do take your larger point.

As always, thanks for the response.

Reply

Craig Hooper February 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Blacktail–

Ahh, sounds like you listened to Allen West at CPAC the other week!

I want you to read my Naval War College Review article from 2005. Disease surveillance overseas has a demonstrable benefit to the warfighter. A good, well-funded NAMRU can do a lot to help our warfighters prepare for their operational environment…overlooking a regional disease can translate to a reduction in the fighting force, an increase in disease-related disability/morbidity/mortality after a deployment/confilct, and, in the event of a fast-moving outbreak, cost lives here at home.

I encourage you to think harder about the benefits we get from international disease collaborations. The Tea Party may have some good ideas, but rolling back things like NAMRUs ain’t one.

Reply

Craig Hooper February 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

CapnVan–I totally agree. CDC is a perfect example–they were, until oh, 2001–a pretty quietly focused organization. After 2001, they’ve really sprawled (or slumped) away from their core focus, and far too many of the technical core left in frustration. I am glad to see that CDC is doing things like getting rid of the gold-plated command/executive suites the political appointees had installed in the surge of post-9-11 spending.

As far as CDC’s role in housing goes–well, a couple of things. These initiatives may be tied into a disease prevention study–a fine thing. Second, remember, the CDC, back in it’s infancy, was directly involved in boosting the quality/caliber of housing in the US. One of the big things that stopped U.S. Malaria cold in it’s tracks was, well, screen doors and windows. Who promoted it? CDC. It’s a classic story in disease prevention.

I would also posit that the Navy labs do have a role–and should be allowed some flex. There is no arguing that a good tight mission is wise and helpful if you want to enumerate mission success/failure, but for these facilities, there are a lot of things that they can do to to further the strategic aims of the US–while providing real, demonstrable benefits to the warfighter.

And as bioweapons become more prevalent, I think these facilities will become even more critical than they are today.

Reply

CapnVan February 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Hi Craig,
I’m worried about mission creep.

An example that strikes me as apropos.

CDC has now contracted with Habitat for Humanity to build housing in Cote d’Ivoire. At one time, CDC was doing HIV studies in West Africa, for fairly obvious reasons — not far from the original infection point, significant simian interaction with the local populace, fairly high (albeit not nearly as high as in other places) infection rates.

Under PEPFAR, and its aid to Orphans & Vulnerable Children, CDC is now giving out grants to build housing for OVC.

I’m not suggesting that this is an undeserving group of people to receive our aid money. But I am suggesting that once a bureaucracy gets its hands on a source of, and rationale for, funding, the consequences can spiral out of control.

Just a thought.

Reply

Blacktail February 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Of course, NAMRU-6 could also be *honest* about why it exists; so that more officers in a US Navy that already has more Admirals than SHIPS can have more salary opportunities for career officers.

That’s one of the biggest reasons (if not THE biggest reason) why the US military has perpetually deployed 1.58 Million+ US troops abroad to 865 bases in over 150 other countries, which comprise 95% of *all* US bases;
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/pentagon/maps/9.html
http://web1.whs.osd.mil/mmid/military/history/hst0605.pdf
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=12785

How many Americans can even find the Netherlands Antilles, Saint Helena, and Antigua on a map? There are US troops deployed there. Why? As part of the “War on Terror”, I’m sure — we all know that Caribbean resort islands are positively CRAWLING with Al Qaeda.

Come to think of it, why are US troops based in Peru? Is Columbia a Threat Country now? And don’t give me any of that “War on Drugs” BS; that’s the responsibility of the DEA, *not* the US military.
Any why is it that these “NAMRUs” aren’t based in the US, where they’re within reach of the resources that sustain them, and the US taxpayers that foot the bill for them? I’m not hearing about any PERUVIAN tax dollars funding this hand-out.

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