Army EHP Helen Tokaiqali

Tales from the front line: How Iraq’s mosquitoes bit the dust

Pest control on the actual front line.
05 March 2020 , EHN magazine

Warrant Officer Class 2 Helen Tokaiqali took on Iraq’s insects during a six-month stint as EHP for eight military bases and 4,000 coalition troops. This is her story:

“I never intended to go into environmental health. When I joined the Army 18 years ago, it was as a combat medical technician, but a week’s training on environmental health elements convinced me to switch paths. That’s how I came to be in Iraq last year as part of Joint Force Support (Middle East) J4 Medical team, where one of my responsibilities to the deployed force was dealing with insects.

“I arrived in July when it was hot, but moving into September it became cooler and wetter and by November there was a lot of stagnant water, with the rainy season in full swing. By now, mosquitoes were a nuisance, particularly when soldiers were running around the track or sitting outside their accommodation having a cigarette or a chat.

“I worked with US Environmental Health (it was just the two of us on a site with 4,000 troops). Together we set up light traps next to a ditch full of water where we could see plenty of mosquitoes. But the next day there were only a few in the trap compared with the lure trap I’d been using outside the British forces’ accommodation.

“Initially, we’d thought a light trap would work best as when it’s dark out there, it is really dark. But even though it was placed next to a source full of mosquitoes, it didn’t trap many.

“I worked with contractors to ensure the mosquitoes were being controlled around camp. Part of this was putting Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) on stagnant water to prevent larvae from growing into adults. I also put up signs to inform soldiers that if they saw new areas, to report them to the pest control contractors via the help desk.

“I’d never been to Iraq before and although I was based in one location, I was responsible for seven other sites. One of the biggest challenges was in establishing relationships at all the sites, but in the end it proved to be one of the most rewarding aspects.”

This article is adapted from one that appeared in the March 2020 issue of EHN (login required).

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