NEWS | Dec. 5, 2011

U.S., Honduran partners help more than 1,100 flood victims

By Tech. Sgt. Matthew McGovern Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

More than 20 medical personnel from Joint Task Force-Bravo provided general medical care to more than 1,100 flood victims Nov. 29 and 30 at Choluteca, Honduras.

The JTF-Bravo team collaborated with their Honduran medical partners, including the Honduran Ministry of Health, to provide care to communities affected by October's flooding in southern Honduras.

The flooding affected thousands of Hondurans and besides the recent medical assistance, the U.S. Government provided $190,000 in direct humanitarian assistance according to a U.S. Embassy press release.

"The places chosen were the hardest hit by torrential rain, mudslides, flooding and sink holes," said 1st. Lt. Tyler Grunewald, medical operations officer from JTF-Bravo's Medical Element. "The recent weather and the destruction of crops from flooding made survival tough for these villages and consequently affected their health."

By the end of the two-day mission, U.S. and Honduran medical staff assisted nearly 150 dental patients, filled more than 2,000 pharmacy prescriptions and educated more than 1,100 people with preventative medicine.

The majority of the people, villagers around Choluteca, were treated for illnesses including respiratory infections, gastro-intestinal diseases, skin infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and even acute trauma from agricultural machinery that almost severed a patient's right foot.

"This was a great opportunity to work with the Honduran government and the Honduran Ministry of Health," said Col. Matthew Rettke, JTF-Bravo MEDEL commander. "This partnership is key and provides humanitarian assistance for villagers affected by the recent flooding. This also provided an opportunity for our personnel to provide medical care in austere conditions similiar to what they would encounter in a disaster response."

"It's nice to help out the people of this remote area," said Capt. James Davis, a JTF-Bravo Medical Element physician's assistant. "These people may not have access to the help they need and I like to be the one who helps them out."

Maj. David Dennison, a general dentist from MEDEL, also found it gratifying to work with Honduran dentists to see nearly 150 patients.

"It was very rewarding when you have people come to you in pain and you know in a few days the pain will subside (after the tooth extraction)," Major Dennison said.

JTF-Bravo members also supported Honduran clinicians who provided nearly 100 doses of immunizations, more than 80 pap smears and close to 20 voluntary HIV tests to people not readily exposed to medical care.

"Some of these people haven't been treated in their entire lifetime," said Senior Airman Michael Marshburn, a MEDEL medical technician. "For example, a teenage girl was treated for epileptic seizures who hasn't been seen since she was diagnosed as a baby."

"These type of missions provide the opportunity to work as a team with partner nations, allowing us to not only provide health care to needed population but conduct long lasting preventive medicine activities that would otherwise be very difficult to achieve," said Dr Ricardo Aviles Honduran Medical Officer from MEDEL.

Besides treating existing symptoms like malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhea, JTF-Bravo medical staff also focused on future disease prevention.

"In addition to assisting with basic medical needs, we facilitated mosquito spraying with the Honduran Ministry of Health and provided the means for water purification," Lieutenant Grunewald said.

During the entire process, the Honduran Boy and Girl Scouts were on hand to translate for the U.S. medical staff.

"It feels good to help with the translations because it makes it easier for the Hondurans get the help they need and I love helping people," said Oscar Rodriquez, a Honduran Boy Scout. "Our relationship with the Americans is very good. They are the reason I wanted to become a translator."

A Honduran servicemember had similar remarks as he was recognized by the U.S. medical team with a certificate of appreciation.

"This was a nice gesture from our American partners of providing services to the people who are the poorest in our community," said Honduran Army 1st Lt. Angel Eduardo Soler-Lobo, an artillery officer and event coordinator. "A little help is very valuable to us and provides happiness to our hearts."

Navy Captain Ivis Ubaldo Moreno, the Honduran Surgeon General, made a suprise visit to the JTF-Bravo team at the close of the mission.

"I personally haved come to recognize this team's effort, shake your hands, and to thank each and every one of you," said Captain Moreno. "All of you have left the comforts of your homes to work and live under field conditions and to help these thousands of humble Hondurans in need of care after these devastating disasters. I want to thank you on their behalf and in the name of our Joint Chief of staff. You should feel proud of what you have accomplished as representatives of the United States in Honduras. Our doors are always open to you and we hope to have you back very soon."

The locations of the mission were chosen after a pre-deployment site survey and were based on the Honduran Ministry of Health's recommendations and Honduran military leadership's feedback. The locations were also validated by local COPECO (Contingency Permanent Committee), representing the U.S. FEMA equivalent in Honduras, responsible for disaster response . 

In fiscal year 2011, JTF-Bravo medical members conducted 15 MEDRETES treating more than 41,000 patients throughout Central America.