Yokota Air Base, Japan --
The first week of April marked the beginning of National Public Health Week, a time to highlight all of the work done by public health professionals whose work is important in maintaining our health standards and quality of life, at Yokota Air Base.
While the primary focus of National Public Health Week is to promote the discussion of health awareness, education, and mindfulness, the public health flight is also using this as a chance to sharpen their skills and revitalize their flight.
“The National Association for Public Health started National Public Health Week in 1995,” said Senior Airman Amber King, 374th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron public health technician. “At its inception, the primary focus was to spread awareness about public health issues that affect people… obesity, tobacco use, or HIV prevention, for instance.”
To carry the point further, as awareness for major public health concerns increases, the conversation around public health changes. The discussion is about promoting healthy decisions and a healthy environment, the environment of our public health professionals included.
“For us, National Public Health Week is an opportunity to focus on emboldening ourselves,” said Master Sgt. Silvia Garcia, 374th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron public health flight chief. “It’s important to maintain the welfare of everyone that we oversee but it’s also important to maintain our efficiency as a flight. Ensuring that we’re operating at peak condition.”
Public Health flight has widened its scope from the original intention of National Public Health Week. This week serves as a reminder that now, more than ever, health and wellness standards must be maintained
“Public Health’s mission statement is to prevent disease, disability, and premature death,” said Garcia. “From following guidelines given to us by the Center of Disease Control, to managing our occupational health section, from the flight line, to what our airmen are eating; our main goal is to prevent anything that would negatively impact the mission.”
Public health professionals are responsible for monitoring and maintaining all publicly accessible venues that could pose a potential health risk.
“We inspect general use public facilities such as gyms, barbershops, and beauty salons,” King said. “We ensure that everyone is licensed and all of the precautions are taken to ensure the safety of the patrons.”
In addition to the many general use facilities that Public Health is responsible for inspecting, they’re responsible for Yokota’s many dining facilities. The Samurai Café, the Enlisted Club, the Officer’s Club, to name a few.
“One of the lesser-known aspects of Public Health are the food inspections we do at every dining facility on base. If there’s an issue with the quality of food at an installation, we’re the ones to call,” said Senior Airman Malachi Whitney, 374th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron occupational health technician. “If we feel the issue warrants an inspection, it’s a small task to drop in randomly for quality assurance.”
Public health professionals are also responsible for the prevention of potentially infectious diseases spread by insects, particularly mosquitoes.
“From May to October, we ensnare mosquitoes with our special traps that utilize light and carbon dioxide as an attractant,” King said. “We pick out the female mosquitoes, sort them from bugs that have no medical significance and we send them to Wright Patterson Air Base, Ohio, where they’re tested for viruses. In the United States, mosquitoes carry West Nile Virus, in Japan, we have Japanese Encephalitis.”
Wright Patterson Air Base notifies Yokota’s Public Health team about any viruses or diseases that the mosquitoes may possesses, which allows Public Health professionals to better advise on whether or not they pose a potential health risk for the base.
“When dealing with preventative medicine and awareness, ensuring that people are maintaining regulations isn’t exactly a glamorous job,” said Whitney. “But it’s every bit as necessary for the safety of everyone on-base.”