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News | July 15, 2019

U.S., Honduran health services battle disease in Honduran mountain community

By Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr. Joint Task Force – Bravo Public Affairs

Joint Task Force Bravo in concurrence with the Honduran Ministry of Health conducted a medical investigation into a possible disease outbreak, July 9 and 10, at La Libertad in the district of Comayagua, Honduras.

Members of JTF-B’s Medical Element (MEDEL) examined the area of La Libertad to determine how and where the disease, Leishmaniasis, was spreading in the community and provide any recommendations that may stop infection.

“Our job is to find out how local folks are contracting Leishmaisis,” said U.S. Army Maj. Jorge Chavez, MEDEL public health nurse. “How it is affecting them, how they are managing it locally through the Ministry of Health, how they are treating it, and whether or not there is a pervasive environmental threat to U.S. forces in the area.”

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that is caused by infection with Leishmania parasites in the blood stream. The Center for Disease Control estimates that there 700,000 to 1.2 million new cases per year.

“Leishmaniasis is one of the diseases of military interest and there are several variations of it,” Chavez explained. “Leishmaniasis is a disease that we encounter in several parts of the world. It can be debilitating, it can also have long-term effects. It can also even be fatal if a certain variety, or kind, of it is contracted.”

In order to properly analyze and provide recommendations to the local community the MEDEL team brought members from different specialties.

“This is a multi-disciplinary approach and there are certain kinds of disciplines that we can count on from MEDEL that make us a robust organization,” Chavez explained. “We bring a physician with us, a public health nurse, a medical laboratory specialist, which assist with the diagnostics at site. So we set up a portable laboratory for this purpose. We bring with us preventive medicine specialist from the PM detachment, which allows us to do environmental surveys and collect data concerning vectors. We have also deployed the entomologist who renders his expertise on vectors and vector mitigation.”

The team of medical professional entered the Honduran-mountain community with two goals.

“The secondary objective is to offer an opportunity for our personnel to train in austere environments on how to utilize our skills and optimize the capture of information and delivery skills,” Chavez said.

“The overall objective is to conduct what is commonly called in the public health circles as an epidiological survey,” Chavez explained. “How does a disease affect a certain population in certain geographical setting, under certain conditions? That’s our principal objective when we do disease investigations.”

Lenin Barahona, Honduran Ministry of Health in Comayagua environmental specialist, said that these investigations are important.

“With an illness, in this case Leishmaniasis, we can identify that the vector is present and that we have a local transmission,” Barahona said. “As such, we have to do an integral control measure with the population and the patient to treat properly. We have to do educational prevention work and then environmental management and control of the vectors in order to prevent other people from getting sick.”

Barahona also said that working with JTF-B members has been interesting and excellent.

“I hope we can maintain this type of cooperation and relationship between the Ministry of Health and the base,” Barahona said. “So we can fortify both investigations and surveillance; along with other programs of disease control and vector monitoring that we should do with the different communities to prevent illness and infection.”

Chavez agrees that the relationship is beneficial to all involved and falls in line with the U.S. Southern Command’s goals of building relationships with our partner-country teams.

“So there are a couple of benefits to the community, some tangible some intangible,” he said. “From the tangible perspective, they are getting the best science we can offer in conjunction with the local authorities to access and provide care for them. On the intangible side, there is the benefit of having a positive American presence that promotes unity between the U.S. and Honduran governments and also a positive regard from the populations