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Honduran and U.S. Military Personnel Provide Medical Services in Gracias a Dios

Honduran and U.S. Military Personnel Provide Medical Services in Gracias a Dios

By Dialogo
March 29, 2016

During a Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) in Honduras, Honduran and U.S. Military units provided medical care and medicine to about 470 residents of Nueva Jerusalén in the department of Gracias a Dios. Personnel from the Health Ministry and students from Honduran medical schools also participated in the humanitarian mission in late January.

The Honduran Army's Policarpo Paz García Task Force, which is part of the battalion in Brus Laguna, and the U.S. Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-‎Bravo) assisted in the MEDRETE. The Honduran Troops, who were accompanied by security and nursing contingents, reached Nueva Jerusalén via the town of Brus Laguna. JTF-Bravo, which brought its medical element, mobilized from Tegucigalpa and Trujillo.

“The population of a region of the country that is very isolated and whose residents do not have access to medical services in their daily lives received medical and dental care,” Honduran doctor Ricardo Avilés, who acts as JTF-Bravo's liaison in the region, told Diálogo
. “We [also] provided them with medicine, pediatric care, and preventative medicine, [like] dewormers, and talks on how to take care of their teeth and their general health overall.”

Honduras, U.S. cooperate

Included in the MEDRETEs, which are part of the ongoing cooperation between the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and Central American partner nations
, were deworming services for Miskitos children and also lessons on water purification techniques for civilians. Honduran authorities selected Nueva Jerusalén for the medical exercise because the Health Secretary had designated it as a low-coverage area, “so, compensating for that deficiency was a priority,” said Dr. Avilés, who has spent more than 23 years working with JTF-‎Bravo. “The area has high levels of need. Hypertension and diabetes, for example, have presented themselves there, as well as gastrointestinal illnesses.”

Many patients traveled long distances over rugged terrain to receive medical care and medicine. “There are no plans to return to the area in the immediate future because the next brigade is scheduled to head to a place called Firfirtara,” which is also in the department of Gracias a Dios, Dr. Avilés stated.

Other countries in the region have also benefited from MEDRETEs. In 2015, MEDRETEs provided medical and dental care to about 700 patients over 10 days during stops in the Salvadoran towns of El Paste, Santa Lucía, Joya del Cerén, and Nejepa
. SOUTHCOM plans on conducting three MEDRETEs in the Guatemalan department of San Marcos in 2016.

Humanitarian campaigns

The MEDRETE in late January was part of a series of humanitarian campaigns the Honduran Armed Forces have conducted to benefit civilians in recent years. In 2015, the government and the Armed Forces launched “Honduras Actívate” (“Activate Honduras”), a program aimed at improving the public’s health. “It started as a small initiative to foster tourism and healthy entertainment options for the inhabitants of predesignated areas,” Artillery Colonel Jorge Fuentes, the program’s former national coordinator, told Diálogo

The “Honduras Actívate” initiative expanded, and the Armed Forces held events every two weeks, including activities in Lago Yojoa in La Tigra (close to Tegucigalpa); in Tela and La Ceiba, which are on the Caribbean coast; and in San Pedro Sula.

Additionally, more than 300,000 Hondurans received free medical care and medicine from different Military brigades that were deployed nationwide in 2014. The Military brought children’s games, musical ensembles, and donated clothes, in addition to providing hair stylists.

The brigades deployed close to locations where there was an Air Force, Army, or Naval unit, with particular focus on the communities of Choluteca, Danlí, Juticalpa, Catacamas, Santa Rosa de Copán, Santa Bárbara, San Pedro Sula, Tela, La Ceiba, El Progreso, La Esperanza, Comayagua, Siguatepeque, and Tegucigalpa.

“The Armed Forces of Honduras have a work plan set out to provide medical care to different parts of the country,” Dr. Avilés explained. “Many of their squads are independent, but we coordinate in order to make a concerted effort."

“There is a whole program for all the commanders of all the country’s battalions. Each battalion is obliged to hold two or three medical events a year. When we coordinate the events, the Armed Forces have a greater reach in areas they would not have been able to get to alone, nor would they have been able to meet all the needs in priority areas.”