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Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR): Overseas Commands

“In studying units just after getting back from Iraq early in the conflict, we found the prevalence of self-reported problems was quite low. But when we checked those same soldiers a few months later, their problems were much higher. So things were not getting better over time, which runs contrary to the typical clinical perspective. These data helped inform the launching of the post-deployment [health] reassessment program [PDHRA]. Timing matters in post-deployment reintegration,” he said.”

“In sum, a lot of our work has a strategic reach providing evidence-based data that informs valid training and behavioral health policy. In this regard, our capability is not uniquely tied to being located in Germany. I know the national military strategic focus is shifting to the Pacific and there will always be a need for the Army to have a flexible forward-located behavioral health research unit ready to respond, regardless of where it is located. From my perspective, USAMRU-E offers a large return on a modest investment for the Army.”

 

U.S. Army Medical Research-Georgia

In 2006, Georgia’s prime minister sent a letter to Vice President Richard Cheney asking for help in establishing a modern public health laboratory. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) constructed this laboratory, the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research (Lugar Center), in Tbilisi, with groundbreaking in 2007 and its opening in March 2011. DTRA continues to fund and operate the facility but the NCDC has moved its laboratories into the Lugar Center and is in the process of taking ownership of the facility. DTRA is currently working to develop a plan to transition the Lugar Center operation and funding from DTRA to the Georgians and WRAIR by the end of 2017.

Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research

A laboratory in the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. The center was named after Lugar for his special contribution in work directed at decreasing chemical, biological, and nuclear dangers across the world. Republic of Georgia photo

WRAIR was tasked in January 2011 by the Deputy Secretary of Defense to establish a medical research unit at the Lugar Center. WRAIR gained Department of the Army approval of the concept plan for this unit in October 2013 and will station the first permanent personnel at the unit the summer of 2014. The Army was also named the Executive Agent for all DoD activities in the Lugar Center.

WRAIR has laboratory and administrative space within the Lugar Center and will partner with NCDC to maintain and operate the facility and conduct scientific research. We will be tenants in this Georgian facility – essentially their version of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – where WRAIR has been invited to work.

USAMRMC scientists have been working in Georgia in support of DTRA for over 10 years. Since 2011, efforts have been focused on scientific research that is relevant to supporting the warfighter. Unlike Kenya and Thailand, which are heavily involved in HIV and malaria, Georgia has different endemic diseases and little or no malaria and dengue fever. They are concerned with antimicrobial resistance, disease surveillance, developing capacity for disease surveillance, training for their military, and determining what the disease threats are to their country.

The future of the Georgia facility – and WRAIR’s presence there – will reflect the global fight against disease, old and new. “By 2020, the Lugar Center will be a fully functional research facility with a mixture of research, on pathogens that are endemic as well those that that may move into their borders.”

As to the future and any other new WRAIR special foreign activities or overseas subcommands, Chapman said there is a reason why so few have been established and maintained during the past half-century.

“With all our labs, everything is tied back to the warfighter; it has to directly impact the U.S. warfighter, whether developing a vaccine, therapeutic, or diagnostic test.”

“With all our labs, everything is tied back to the warfighter; it has to directly impact the U.S. warfighter, whether developing a vaccine, therapeutic, or diagnostic test,” she said.

“The trust and respect we’ve built with the nations in which we operate has led to the very successful relationships we have today. Of course, the mission and locations also are dependent on political stability and other local factors. It takes many, many years to develop a vaccine. Looking forward, hopefully those we have been working on will reach FDA approval. But we will always be committed to research on endemic diseases around the world wherever our warfighters may deploy.”

What is certain for the future, Blow added, is the continuing battle against malaria, HIV, dengue fever, etc., but diseases that have been militarized or created in labs as weapons are not part of their mandate.

“WRAIR does surveillance of naturally occurring diseases; anything else belongs to DTRA and others,” Blow said. “Working with our partner countries to develop these surveillance efforts, hopefully we can identify and characterize any new [non-manmade] diseases. That worked with SARS.

“We are very capable of adapting to new threats and outbreaks and will continue to do that. We communicate a lot of knowledge through our personnel overseas and they help develop the knowledge and strength of the people of those host nations.”

This article first appeared in Walter Reed Army Institute of Research: 120 Years of Advances for Military and Public Health.

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...


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