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News | Nov. 15, 2016

JTF-Bravo, Costa Rican medical teams bring healthcare to remote indigenous village

By Master Sgt. Kerri Spero Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

A group of 16 doctors, nurses, dentists and other specialists from Joint Task Force-Bravo took part in Operation Pura Vida, a joint humanitarian mission and Medical Readiness Training Exercise at an indigenous region in the Caribbean province of Limón, Nov. 1 to 3. The group arrived in four helicopters from the 1st Battalion 228th Aviation Regiment and joined 30 Costa Rican physicians to provide basic healthcare services to approximately 300 residents of the indigenous village of Piedra Mesa, Telire region of Talamanca, Limón.

Communities living in remote areas are usually at a great disadvantage in terms of access to medical care. Ordinarily, Piedra Mesa patients would have to travel on foot for up to seven days, to the nearest medical treatment facility. The JTF-Bravo team provided patient services to include preventive medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, dentistry, and nurse technicians?; in addition to the airlift capability.

Costa Rican Public Security Minister, Gustavo Mata Vega, and U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, S. Fitzgerald Haney, visited to mission site on November 3.  Mata thanked the Ambassador, the Embassy, and JTF-Bravo for the assistance, and said that humanitarian missions like this one are fundamental to improve health and security conditions for indigenous people.

“This is something that the village has requested, along with the Costa Rican government, and it’s an opportunity for everyone to better understand and provide services to what otherwise would be a very isolated, indigenous population,” said Maj. Rosemary Reed, JTF-Bravo Civil Military Operations deputy, “We want their support and understanding of why we’re bringing this particular unique capability to their village.”

A thriving rural community is dependent on the health of its population. Access to medical care does not guarantee good health, however, access to healthcare is critical for a population’s well-being and optimal health.

“It’s not based on the amount of people that live here. It’s based on how difficult, for the few people that do live here, to provide care because of the village’s remote location,” said Miguel Coello, JTF-Bravo Medical Liaison Officer, who has previously served with JTF-Bravo at this location three times.

According to Coello, the most common patient ailments related to this particular area are malnutrition, renal diseases, upper respiratory infections, skin diseases, and chronic mosquito-borne diseases.

“Some treatments are lengthy, but if some of these diseases are not treated in a timely manner, they can be lethal,” explained Coello.

For follow-up care, the Costa Rican Social Security Bureau (Caja Costarricense de Seguridad Social), have a team of doctors who travel to Piedra Mesa village every three months.

“This is one of the best examples of several different entities coming together,” said Coello, “For example, we were able to provide the airlift, but the tents and field accommodations were provided by the Costa Rican Fire Department and Red Cross; and security was provided by the Costa Rican Police. These organizations were brought here to also exercise their expeditionary capabilities.”

The purpose of JTF-Bravo conducting a MEDRETE is to test capabilities, react to a natural disaster and to interact with a local populace by building relationships with other entities within Central America, according to Capt. Lettishia Burchfied, Operation Pura Vida officer in charge.

Missions like Operation Pura Vida shed light on the importance of indigenous communities in conservation in Latin America. A 2014 study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature showed that the presence of indigenous communities significantly lowers deforestation caused by drug traffickers operating illegally in remote parts of Central America, and country-specific programs have begun to involve indigenous people in the policing of protected areas.

The concept for Operation Pura Vida was formulated during a Central American Community of Interest discussion in April 2016 which focused on the stem the growing trend of Transnational Threat Networks observed in Costa Rica. In response, the COI established a Joint Planning Group which met serval times in the following months.  During this period, JPG planners developed this challenge into a coherent US and Costa Rican force combined operation focused against positive environmental effects (MEDRETE), while simultaneously disrupting the T3Ns residing in nearby area (future illicit drug eradication). 

The planning effort culminated in late October with approval by the US Ambassador to Costa Rica and Commander of U.S. Southern Command to execute. 

“By all measures, the resulting operation, Operations Pura Vida, stands as a glowing CENTAM COI success,” said Maj. Graham White, JTF-Bravo Plans and Policy director.

This is the fifth time that Costa Rica has received assistance from U.S Southern Command, which is responsible for all U.S. military activity in Latin America. The aid program started in response to a request by the U.S. Embassy in San José.

MEDRETEs like the one held in Piedra Meza serve the broader purpose of fostering a spirit of cooperation and goodwill between U.S. and partner nation counterparts.