The U.S. has a network of overseas laboratories in places like Peru, Egypt, Kenya, and Thailand, said Captain Gregory Martin ’80, M.D., a naval infectious disease and tropical medicine specialist. All are in areas that tend to have unstable governments and major infrastructure problems within the healthcare system. “We do good there, but it’s not completely altruistic,” he explained to a group of several hundred students and faculty during a daylong visit to campus on Feb. 4. “We use those sites to develop vaccines for dengue, malaria, and other illnesses which could affect our troops.”
In a fascinating talk punctuated by some great questions, Dr. Martin explained how the medical arm of the military works with local populations all over the world, and outlined some of the benefits and pitfalls of their work. “Take for example the USNS Comfort, the Navy’s 1,000 bed hospital ship that has made recent deployments in the Caribbean and Latin America. After the Haiti earthquake, the incredible resources that the Comfort could bring to the disaster clearly were a critical part of saving many lives,” he said. However, the value of routine visits to other sites for a few days or weeks is less clear cut, as many of the health issues are long-term diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and tuberculosis. He also described the disease surveillance and research the military can conduct during outbreaks. One example: an outbreak of rabies caused by vampire bats in rural Peru as a new highway was built in the jungle. The outbreak wiped out herds of cattle and killed scores of people in the area, a clear downside of the development of improved transportation in the area.
Captain Martin spent the day on campus, meeting with groups of students, faculty, and staff interested in the role of medical professionals in humanitarian action, through the efforts of the Center for Faith and Public Life, JUHAN (Jesuit University Humanitarian Action Network), and the Office of Advancement. He cited his biology professor at Fairfield, Dr. Diane Brousseau, with having a “significant impact” on his career. “Her passion for science and the adventures inherent in pursuing field research were aspects of science that I first experienced with her, and they have never really left me,” he said.
After graduating from Fairfield with a degree in biology, Captain Martin went on to earn his medical degree at Georgetown. He completed an internship at Naval Medical Center in San Diego and later an infectious diseases fellowship at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. In October 2001, he was the infectious diseases consultant to the U.S. Capitol during the anthrax scare, caring for Senate staff who had been exposed to spores and establishing procedures such as the rapid delivery of antibiotics, post exposure care, and research evaluation. He was subsequently awarded the Legion of Merit by the Secretary of the Navy.
Captain Martin remains the Navy Surgeon General’s Specialty Leader for Infectious Diseases and is on the staff of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.
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