Keeping a Healthy Watch
7 August 2016
An Australian Army Environmental Health Officer has been given the opportunity to float his ideas – literally.
LT Matt La Macchia, an Environmental Health Officer at the First Preventive Medicine Company, Gallipoli Barracks, is currently serving with a group of Australian, New Zealand and US Navy specialists to look after potential environmental health issues aboard one of the largest floating hospitals in the world.
The US Navy's USNS Mercy is a 69,000-ton floating mega-hospital that is comparable to a small town.
The ship is currently assigned to Pacific Partnership 16, a multinational operation where military and civilian specialists work with host nations to conduct medical, engineering, dental and veterinary clinics.
The ship carries enough food, fuel, cleaning materials, medicines and supplies to last a month.
It has a state-of-the-art water manufacturing system along with an environmentally friendly sewerage system.
To maintain the health of all the personnel aboard requires stringent environmental health controls and checks, and this where Matt and his colleagues come to the fore.
The team continually inspects and monitors the ship, habitat systems, accommodation and work areas for any possible infestation or contamination that may cause health issues to all aboard.
On a daily basis, Mercy serves over 3600 meals, produces 208,000 litres of fresh water, treats 284,000 litres of sewerage (includes gray water) and creates over 100 cubic meters of hard waste.
There are so many things that could go wrong, so it's up to Matt and the team to constantly monitor for any signs of problems that could suddenly become a major health issue.
"Communicable diseases can spread rapidly in confined environments, and disable many people onboard ships," Matt said.
"Ships are like Petrie dishes when it comes to communicable diseases, but because of our actions we are able to halt the spread of viruses."
The environmental health team's duties go beyond constant monitoring and testing.
While the ship is in port, Matt and his colleagues are also part of the Pacific Partnership team who go out and work alongside their host nation counterparts in seminars and hands-on demonstrations and practices, discussing and planning solutions and methods for assisting in the aftermath of natural disasters.
"Following natural disasters, there is commonly widespread infrastructure damaged leaving communities with little or no fresh water and no effective sanitation that leads to an increased risk of health threats," Matt said.
"This mission has enabled us to work alongside the host nations to plan ahead and develop strategies to best combat issues born from natural disasters."
Under the Pacific Partnership banner in 2016, the embarked specialists have worked alongside host nation specialists in Dili, Timor Leste, Legazpi in the Philippines and Da Nang in Vietnam.
The ship will now visit Kuantan in Malaysia and Padang in Indonesia.