US Army medical unit in Kenya for swine flu

Should a pandemic flu, such as H1N1 influenza, make its way into East Africa, a Kenya-based US Army medical research team is in place to assist local officials in detecting the disease.
The H1N1 influenza – known commonly as swine flu – has been detected in Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia, Africom reports.

Soldiers and civilians at the US Army Medical Research Unit-Kenya (USAMRU-K) remain on the lookout for pandemic flu, said the unit’s commander, Colonel Scott Gordon.
“We have the capability to detect pandemic influenza, staffing eight surveillance sites around Kenya that take daily specimens looking for the flu,” said Gordon, a medical entomologist from Silver Springs, Maryland, who holds a Ph.D. in microbiology and has served 25 years in uniform.


Millions of Africans live with weakened immune systems, often due to HIV, in rural areas away from healthcare – a major concern, should the flu strike on the continent.
“Kenya is currently capable of detecting swine flu,” Gordon said. “We use the latest real-time diagnostic technologies.”

US funding helped rebuild the Kenya National Influenza Centre in Nairobi, Gordon said.
“We’ve made sure Kenya has state-of-the-art equipment and staffing to enhance their capabilities significantly, to include detecting swine flu.”

One of five US military research overseas labs, USAMRU-K was first established in 1969 at Kenya’s invitation to study trypanosomiasis, a parasitic disease transmitted by the tsetse fly. In 1973, the unit was permanently set up in Nairobi, working through an agreement with the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Altogether, USAMRU-K has 11 soldiers, 2 Army civilians and roughly 350 Kenyan contractors. A mix of doctors, nurses, scientists, and laboratory technician`s work together to research, test, and prevent disease.
“Out unit, together with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, supports the Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.

Any positive H1N1 specimens would be immediately reported to the Kenyan officials. We would then support them in the subsequent public health response,” Gordon said.