NEWS | Aug. 17, 2010

Medics hit Mosquito Coast for MEDCAP

By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Rojek Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

The Joint Task Force-Bravo Medical Element recently completed a medical civic action program mission in the La Mosquitia region of Honduras, which began Aug. 8 and ended Aug. 14.

After weeks of preparation and planning, the MEDEL team was able to treat 1,831 patients for various ailments and injuries, from headaches to a two-year-old snake bite wound.

MEDEL sent 17 members to work with medical professionals from the Honduran Ministry of Health and military, as well as one Honduran civilian volunteer, to bring health care to the remote villages of Pimienta, Yapuwas and Wawina. These villages were selected by the Ministry of Health based on their extreme distance from standard health care facilities, said Dr. Wilmer Amador, a Honduran liaison officer with MEDEL here. In some villages, it would take a two or three day canoe trip to reach the nearest town, let alone the nearest clinic.

"That's the challenge we face in the boonies," Dr. Amador said. "But we have to do the best we can with the resources we have in these locations."

To get to these locations was a challenge in itself. It started with the team getting JTF-Bravo leadership approval for the mission and money, as well as coordinating with Army Forces and the 1-228th Aviation Regiment for transportation. Once JTF-Bravo participation was established, Dr. Amador began coordination with a Ministry of Health representative in the La Mosquitia region.

"Everything we do has their blessing," he said.

After the regional contact had established the locations and timelines, MEDEL operations officers began preparing a list of personnel using Dr. Amador's quick-turn scenario game, he said. He and the operations officers look at the available personnel and determine who they would send on a medical mission if they had to leave the next day. When this list is completed, they work with the Ministry of Health and Honduran military to get their list of participants as well. In this particular mission, seven Ministry of Health and 11 Honduran military members participated in the MEDCAP.

As this information is then fed to U.S. Southern Command for approval, pre-deployment preparations take place, including inventory, packing and pre-labeling prescription medicines in Spanish. Being ready for everything before leaving is 50 percent of mission success, Dr. Amador said.

Finally, after all the money, transportation, fuel, food and lodging concerns are coordinated and finalized, the team can leave and begin working together to ease the pain and suffering of their fellow man.

"This is one of the most immediate gratifications you get in the military," said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Thomas Edmonson, the dentist with MEDEL here. "When we treat our military folks, it's basic maintenance. But with what we're doing for these people, you see immediate benefit. It's rewarding work."

Besides the more than 1,800 patients seen over the four clinic days, that work included shipping out 2,500 pounds of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. With all that gear, the dental team saw 194 patients and conducted 105 extractions; the pharmacy team saw 564 patients and delivered 1,685 prescriptions; doctors were able to give 189 immunizations; the veterinarian team treated 66 animals; and the surgical team, which stayed in Puerto Lempira, saw 230 patients and conducted 46 surgeries.

"You never know what will walk up," Dr. Edmonson said. "People could have any condition at all."

While all that is part of the training that a MEDCAP offers the MEDEL team, in the end it's not about the military side of the mission at all, said Dr. Amador.

"You get to see how most of the world is living out there," he said. "It's make you thankful for what you have and not take it for granted."

The next MEDEL mission is a MEDCAP scheduled for Aug. 23-26 in El Salvador.