U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Pavlicek is a microbiologist assigned to the Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the current director of the microbiology laboratory of Naval Medical Research Unit-Three on Camp, Lemonnier, Djibouti, where she is deployed to protect service members from infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and Avian influenza.
Pavlicek, who has a doctorate in microbiology, is taking advantage of her deployment to conduct critical research on animal health and water sources around Djibouti. This research is potentially beneficial to the local shepherds and goat herders to make sure that their livestock remains disease-free.
“My job is to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health to keep the herds healthy,” says Pavlicek. “This is an area that receives a lot of traffic from other countries, so a lot of individuals bring their herds through here. With that, the possibility of diseases that aren’t normally present in Djibouti can occur.”
Djibouti is an important strategic partner with the U.S. It is a line of effort for USAFRICOM to engage with the local community and foster positive U.S.-Africa relationships. Going out into remote locations to conduct medical research is just one of the ways the U.S. military hopes to strengthen these ties.
“When these herds are healthy,” says Pavlicek. “That means the human population will remain healthy. If we can assist them in keeping the herd healthy, that keeps them from also developing those types of diseases. We teach them what to look for and the signs and symptoms they need to be concerned about.”
The research that Dr. Pavlicek is doing, is not only meant to benefit the local villagers and their livestock. The information she has gathered could have a far-reaching impact on the treatment of disease and infections among the U.S. military.
“I am working on a congressionally funded project to look for the next greatest treatment for wound infections,” says Lt. Cmdr. Pavlicek. “As many people know, antibiotic resistance is rising, so it is a major concern for the Department of Defense. We want to be able to treat any wounds that our servicemembers receive either in combat or at home. Part of the reason why I am out here is to gather water samples from areas where either animals or humans congregate and where antibiotic use is high, so we will be able to find drug-resistant microorganisms. Hopefully, eventually, that will end in a product we can use in the field or in hospitals.”
With the work that Lt. Cmdr. Pavlicek does, someone might picture pristine laboratory settings full of test tubes and white coats. Being a microbiologist for the United States Navy looks a little different.
“In the laboratory field,” says Pavlicek. “Many people are stuck within a lab in some building. Both Navy and Army microbiologists get to travel the world and study diseases that you might not normally get to see in real time and in the real locations that they are found. It assists me in gathering the samples that I need to do the work that I do.”
Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti serves as an expeditionary base for U.S. military forces providing support to ships, aircraft, and personnel that ensure security and stability throughout Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia. The Department of Defense supports our African partners with capacity building, strengthening defense institutions, and supporting a whole-of government approach in the region so diplomatic and developmental solutions can take root.
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