NEWS | Sept. 12, 2009

Costa Rica, JTF-Bravo team up, offer medical care to remote villages

By Tech. Sgt. Mike Hammond Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

For many with cold and flu-like symptoms, relief is just a few minutes away through a local drug store or visit to the family physician. But here in this remote, mountainous and heavily forested region of Costa Rica it's a lot more complicated.

Rogelio and Melli Segura and their five children - all under 10 years old - walked an hour and a half up and down mountains to see a doctor for the first time ever. The Seguras, who farm corn for subsistence and are expecting their sixth child, made the long walk after suffering from headaches and other pains for the past five days.

After the whole family received examinations from a physician's assistant, they left with bottles of Tylenol - medicine that is over-the-counter in places like the United States but considerably harder to come by in a place inaccessible by road and a three day hike from the nearest medical care.

The Seguras represented six of the more than 240 patients seen here Sept. 11 during a combined Medical Readiness and Training Exercise, or MEDRETE, conducted by the Costa Rica Ministry of Health and members of Joint Task Force-Bravo, headquartered at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.

Residents of the area came from miles around to see healthcare providers from the Ministry of Health and JTF-B. Some heard of the opportunity through word-of-mouth advertising and some, like 50-year-old Rafael Martinez, simply heard the two UH-60 Blackhawks approaching. "I heard the helicopter go by and walked for about an hour to see the doctor," Mr. Martinez said. "It has been at least two years since I saw one."

According to the mission commander, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Curtis Anderson, the effort to come to Costa Rica was beneficial to all involved.

"This exercise was an initiative of the Costa Rica Ministry of Health, and we are glad to help support the effort," Colonel Anderson said. "Our providers get needed training in practicing medicine in more remote and austere conditions not seen in a traditional clinical setting," he said, noting the lack of electrical power or running water in the area. "The patients benefit from getting medical care which is not readily available, and everyone benefits from two partner nations teaming up to work together toward a common goal."

The care provided came on the first of a two-day exercise, and the combined Costa Rican and JTF-Bravo team is prepared to see as many as 500 more patients Sept. 12 at the second location, Xichiari.