Continuing Promise Changes Lives in Guatemala
By Jennyfer Hernández/Diálogo May 01, 2018
The humanitarian campaign stopped in Puerto Barrios to provide services to thousands of people.
Residents of the department of Izabal in northeastern Guatemala received free medical care from the Continuing Promise 2018 (CP-18) humanitarian mission. The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-sponsored annual exercise—led by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/4th Fleet—arrived in the community of Puerto Barrios, April 9th–18th.
Around 250 troops, including doctors and service members from the U.S. Navy and Army, arrived aboard the USNS Spearhead and tended to more than 6,700 people. Medical personnel and members of the Ministry of Health and the Guatemalan Army worked with their U.S. counterparts during the eighth mission of CP-18 in the Central American country.
“The mission allowed thousands of Guatemalans to receive medical care, and allowed for exchange of ideas among experts from both countries, as well as a deeper understanding of our partnership as nations,” said U.S. Navy Captain Ángel Cruz, commander of the mission and commodore of Destroyer Squadron 40. “In this mission, lives were changed, not only for patients, but also for seamen and service members who were deeply impacted by these interactions.”
Adults and children formed long lines starting at 5 a.m. to receive care at the Puerto Barrios Sports Complex, which served as a hospital center for the duration of the mission. The emergency unit, where surgeries were performed, was set up on the grounds of the Caribbean Naval Command of the Guatemalan Navy.
“We were told they have very good service, and we wanted to come,” Hilda Salvatierra, who came with her daughter early in the morning, told Diálogo. “It’s really nice because there are translators who explain things to you. They gave my daughter vitamins for her growth, and helped me by removing a toenail that caused a lot of pain.”
Residents received general and specialized medical care. Nutritionists and psychologists joined the effort to improve patients’ mental and physical health.
“Most prevalent among adults were cases of diabetes,” U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman First Class Ignacio García Vega told Diálogo. “That was what I diagnosed the most.”
Dental services were among the most sought after. Between cavities and extractions, dental specialists kept busy.
“We did a good number of extractions for older people who wanted their teeth pulled because of how bad they were,” said U.S. Navy Commander Ángela Roldán-Whitaker, lead dentist for CP-18. “Every day, there was an average of 80 extractions, which is quite a high number.”
Surgeons performed 36 surgeries in the emergency tents at the naval base. Specialized doctors also participated in other medical procedures at local hospitals.
“The most serious case was an operation for a man who had a large injury on his leg, and a graft was done for reconstruction,” said U.S. Navy Commander Jeanne Lewandowski, chief of surgery for CP-18. “There was also a pediatric patient who had a mass or a tumor on his neck. We believe and are sure that the plastic surgeon completely changed his life.”
In addition to providing medical services, CP-18 personnel brought smiles to children at local schools, with games and educational activities on preventive medicine, hygiene, and nutrition. Veterinarians deployed on the mission also vaccinated livestock and pets.
Residents and leaders of the region eagerly awaited the arrival of the USNS Spearhead, and organized themselves ahead of time to optimize the event’s reach. According to Hugo Sarceño, mayor of Puerto Barrios, the mission was a total success.
“We made the announcement to the communities 30 days in advance, and major cases were sought out to be diagnosed. Our people made arrangements to come by bus to the campaign,” Sarceño indicated. “We are incredibly grateful for this assistance, which improved the quality of life of our community members. Thanks to them, our residents are now in good health.”
During the mission, health professionals tended to nearly 3,000 adults and more than 1,300 children in general medicine. Specialists carried out almost 1,000 ophthalmology screenings, in addition to more than 650 dental treatments, around 500 dermatological treatments and gynecological appointments. Also, more than 200 people took advantage of psychological services. The mission also provided glasses, prescriptions, and vitamins, among other essentials.
“The collaboration between Guatemala and the United States was strengthened by this mission,” concluded Capt. Cruz. “Our shared interests and values continue to improve the security and stability of our communities. Only together can we create a stable and better world.”
SOUTHCOM’s civil-military program kicked off in 2007 to provide humanitarian aid and medical assistance to Latin American partner nations. At the end of April, the CP-18 teams continued on to Colombia for the final stage of their mission.