23 February 2009

Africa: U.S. Naval Engagement Offers Health Dividends

A program bringing together naval personnel and health care workers from 13 countries is in full swing in Africa.

On one level, the Africa Partnership Station 2009 initiative is about promoting maritime security and safety, but sharing health information is another valuable aspect. Under the concept, military and civilian experts are brought together on ships that are stationed in a region for a period of time to offer training programs at sea and ashore.

During a recent U.S. Navy ship visit to Senegal, for example, a marine hospital corpsman found that the Senegalese were eager to learn about treatments for heat exhaustion and snake bites. A flexible curriculum allows participants to pursue unexpected avenues of learning even as the agenda also addresses core training in nonlethal defense tactics.

This year, the USS Nashville is the main floating platform housing the trainers and health care professionals. Some African nations requested martial arts training, while others sought life-saving skills.

Private First Class Sidya Baidane of the Senegalese Special Forces said the individualized training between U.S. Marines from the USS Nashville and Senegalese Special Forces units promotes the sharing of experiences, from working on vehicles to synthesizing maritime intelligence.

Senegalese Navy Lieutenant Commander Omar Wade said the U.S. Navy-led initiative, backed by international partners, sets the stage for future regional maritime cooperation.

U.S. Navy Captain Cynthia Thebaud heads the 75-person crew on the Nashville, which includes two dozen officers from 10 African nations practicing medical evacuations, fishery management, search-and-rescue operations and protecting marine environments. The program takes the form of workshops, seminars and hands-on training.

Gabonese sailors board the USS Fort McHenry for training workshops.

"Persistent presence versus episodic engagement pays big dividends" in Africa, Thebaud said. Besides stops in Mozambique and Senegal, the Nashville will make port calls in Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon in February and March.

The Navy asked Project Hope to be a partner in the initiative again this year. Project Hope is an international health education and humanitarian assistance organization with experience in 35 countries. Some Project Hope volunteers living aboard the Nashville are returning to Africa for a second time, having served as part of Africa Partnership Station 2008.

Project Hope recruited volunteer health professionals for this trip: emergency room and family practice doctors, registered nurses, a family nurse practitioner, a physical therapist, a midwife, an X-ray technician and a pharmacist. The volunteers are treating and educating patients at community hospitals in Ghana. (For more information, read their blog.)


When U.S. Navy ships have room in their cargo holds, they typically carry donations as part of a community outreach effort called Project Handclasp. In Senegal, Nashville crew members from Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, the United Kingdom and the United States handed out Project Handclasp book bags with pencils and notebooks at the Gallo Diouf Elementary School in the village of Kinibour.

The head of the local teacher's association, Djibrie Thianoloum, thanked the visitors on behalf of the students, teachers and parents. Thianoloum said the donation will help the children concentrate on their studies "so they can have a better chance to become successful professionals." Elsewhere in Senegal, medications, infant care items and hygiene products were distributed at an orphanage outside Dakar.

The USS Robert G. Bradley also supports the Africa Partnership Station initiative. It visited Mozambique where its crew carried out much-needed repairs at the Arcos Iris Orphanage in Maputo. The crew repaired an old septic tank, fixed the roof, painted the nursery and cleared away debris and weeds. The orphanage is home to 300 children and also offers health services and meals to the community.

The Bradley plans additional stops in Kenya, Tanzania and Djibouti.

Using the universal language of music, the Navy's traveling band, The Diplomats, offered a series of concerts in Senegal, playing the music of the late rhythm-and-blues legend James Brown and the rock group The Eagles. The Diplomats even played with the Senegalese armed forces in a joint concert. Senegalese conductor Ibrahima Mbaye said the experience was magnificent since "we all understand the music." (See a video clip of the joint concert.)

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