NEWS | Aug. 31, 2009

MEDRETE provides free medical care to El Salvador villagers

By 1st Lt. Jennifer Richard Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Eighty-seven year-old Aurelia Lopez walked two hours round-trip through the mountains of El Salvador to receive free medical care -- the first time she had seen a doctor in 40 years.

Ms. Lopez suffered from arthritis and stomach pain, in addition to a large goiter on her neck. She received free treatment from a team of U.S. and Salvadoran personnel hosting a medical readiness and training exercise, or MEDRETE, in the remote village of San Fernando, El Salvador, Aug. 25 and 26.

"I am happy with this medical team because it is really hard to get medical care here," said Ms. Lopez. "The next closest medical center takes four hours round-trip to walk to, and I don't have the money to pay to see a doctor."

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Marie Dominguez, Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element commander, examined Ms. Lopez and prescribed proper medication.

"I'm glad we were able to take care of what was bothering her," Colonel Dominguez said. "The medicine will make her stomach discomfort go away and ease her arthritis pain."

Twenty-three members of Joint Task Force-Bravo worked alongside members of the Salvadoran military and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health to make the MEDRETE a success. Together, the medical team provided care to more than 900 patients during the two-day exercise.

In the crowd of people that lined up each day outside San Fernando's elementary school, where the MEDRETE was held, there were many stories like Ms. Lopez's. Most of the patients walked at least an hour to be seen by doctors, and many had not received medical treatment in decades.

For Jose Ortega, 70, the MEDRETE marked the third time he has seen a doctor in his life. He works most days in the fields of El Salvador growing beans, and he walked four hours round-trip to receive the free medical care.

"Thank God that the medical team is here," Mr. Ortega said.

This was the first MEDRETE in Central America for many of the Joint Task Force-Bravo personnel. The exercise provided them an opportunity to put their medical expertise into action while helping the people of El Salvador.

"I was really glad to be able to help the people here in some way, however small," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Krista Grey, Medical Element nurse, Joint Task Force-Bravo. "When the patients would shake my hand and say 'thank you,' that was a great feeling."

Joint Task Force Bravo's Medical Element cooperates with international agencies to conduct medical readiness and training exercises throughout Central America. The exercises support Joint Task Force Bravo's overall mission of supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in order to promote stability and prosperity throughout the region.