SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
From Sept. 9 to 21, the Joint Task Force-Bravo Medical Element worked with the 12th Air Force Pediatric Medical Readiness Training Exercise team on a real-world pediatric training mission.
The majority of the team visiting from the United States was from Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base and Brooke Army Medical Center, both in San Antonio, Texas.
More than 25 American and Honduran servicemembers traveled from the base to several communities, mostly within Lepaterique County, conducting nutritional assessments and pediatric care for the indigenous population.
Dr. Ricardo Aviles, JTF-Bravo medical liaison officer, said part of the mission was helping the Honduran Ministry of Health evaluate and understand the effects of a new multivitamin delivery system known as "Sprinkles."
Sprinkles work similar to condiments in that they are put directly onto food, but they are tasteless, odorless and colorless, so children are more likely to take them as opposed to the previous methods used.
Sprinkles contain multivitamins and micronutrients essential to brain development and combating anemia. They are an item of high interest to both the United States and Honduran doctors because they are a cost-effective way of delivering the essential nutrients to supplement the diets of children here, which consist mostly of starches and vegetables, Dr. Aviles said.
As the children being helped today are the future of Honduras, better brain development while they are young can make a big difference for a country, he said.
"The next step will be working with pregnancies to try to avoid birth defects," Dr. Aviles said.
Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Vinod Gidvani is the Chief of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at WHMC. He said the trip was a great training experience for the medics there, and a great professional exchange with the Honduran medical workers.
"I think we made a good impact on the region," he said. According to the major, the preliminary findings of the health assessment show great reception to the Sprinkles multivitamins, which is crucial to the program's success.
"It's important to be able to show use," Major Gidvani said. This was the 15th mission in the study, and results have been carefully tracked over the course of the study.
Dr. Miguel Coello, JTF-Bravo MEDEL liaison officer, said approximately 800 children have been involved in the study. Approximately 50,000 one-gram Sprinkles packets have been distributed to date in Lepaterique County.
Children with preexisting anemia are unable to participate in the study, as the Sprinkles are designed to prevent the condition.
"If a child already has anemia, they will have different results than a child without it," Dr. Coello said.
For another doctor from San Antonio, Army Lt. Col. John Palmer, the trip was a first-time visit to the area. The type of recurring mission being performed by the team is a lot more useful in terms of sustainability than a "flash in the pan" medical mission, the colonel, the Chief Pediatric Pulmonologist at BAMC, said.
"We're standing on the shoulders of other people's work, but continuing in the same vein," he said.
What struck Colonel Palmer the most on this mission was the sense of community displayed in the small Honduran villages the team visited.
"Everyone helps each other out," he said. "It was a real eye opener. These are people with next to nothing, but the kids would still take what we gave them and share with everyone else."
The colonel said he believes missions such as this are not only a benefit to the people they help directly, but also gives a positive image of all Americans.
"We're seen as the country that helps other countries," he explained. "The people here look forward to the 'gringo visits.'"
In addition to the teams from the United States bases, Col. Scott Van Valkenberg, Air Forces Southern command surgeon, was visiting the JTF-Bravo MEDEL, which is the largest contingent of Air Force medical personnel in the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility.
"This gives me an example of the locations [they visit] and work they do," Colonel Van Valkenberg said.
"I got the opportunity to meet this group as they were coming in, and I'm impressed by the staff so far," he said. "They bring a fresh set of eyes to the organization."