Honduran Military Begins Public Health Brigades
By Iris Amador/Diálogo April 03, 2017Quisiera ser voluntario en las brigadas The Honduran Military has begun its annual civilian-military operation with public health brigades. The operations provide health care to thousands of people across the country and are held simultaneously in the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. “We started on January 28th, and every Saturday since then we have held four or five health brigades at different points around the country,” Infantry Colonel Jorge Cerrato, a Honduran Military spokesperson, told Diálogo. “Last year, we treated more than a million people, and we expect to treat 1.5 million Hondurans in 2017.” For three consecutive years, the Military has increased its number of public health brigades. As a result, it also has increased the number of people benefitting from this social service, which the population now expects year after year. From 110 public health brigades in 2014, the numberjumped to 131 in 2015 and to 140 in 2016. For 2017, the Armed Forces have 143 medical missions planned. “The Armed Forces are always thinking of ways to help people identify their main needs,” Col. Cerrato said. “We’re aware that there are places where it’s hard for people to access health care, and that’s why we bring it to them.” Serving the public People stood in line early in the morning at two educational centers – one in the capital and the other in the north of the country – to receive health services and other assistance at the massive public health brigade run by the 105th Infantry Brigade in San Pedro Sula. “Ours is a public-service institution. We come to the people. We are part of the people,” Infantry Colonel Tito Livio Moreno told Diálogo. He runs the public health brigade in San Pedro Sula. “This effort is a priority because we know the limitations the population faces. We’re making use of the Armed Forces’ own capacities to reach out-of-the-way places that other agencies couldn’t get to.” In order to provide this service for free, military clinicians rely on volunteer support from civilians and staff at the Secretariat of Health. “Public and private institutions are working with us. Clinicians from other hospitals or private clinics join us. Sometimes they are local but many of them travel from their cities to the rural towns and communities that are our coverage targets,” Col. Moreno said. “We provide them logistical support. Without their efforts, this mission would be impossible to do.” Something for the entire family Health brigade attendees can receive treatment in the areas of general medicine, pediatrics, orthopedics, gynecology, and ophthalmology. They also can receive psychological services and dental care, as well as get lab testing done. “All the medications are provided free of charge,” Col. Moreno said. “The Armed Forces also runs vaccination campaigns and donation drives for food, clothing, and school supplies.” A wide range of services is offered, including haircuts for adults and children, which are offered free of charge. Over the past several years, the Armed Forces have even offered legal advice services since most people do not have the means to hire a lawyer. “We don’t resolve a person’s legal issue, but we do advise them, explaining what resources are available to them to solve their problem,” Col. Cerrato said. Since different members of the family unit attend these public health brigades, service members set up inflatable trampolines for the kids and make sure music, games, piñatas, and other recreational opportunities are available to them. “We are trying to make these health brigades family events,” Col. Cerrato emphasized. “Historically, the Armed Forces have supported the population, and this is a way of bringing it closer to the people so that relations between our institution and the civilian population are warmer and more cordial.” Duty calls The beneficiaries are always grateful for the opportunity to be seen by specialists, getting a new pair of glasses, or a medication, or being referred for more extensive treatments when their condition warrants surgery or further follow-up. “They are spontaneous in showing us their appreciation and gratitude, but that’s not why we do it; we do it because it’s our duty,” Col. Moreno pointed out. “In this first brigade, a child with severe malnutrition came in to see us. He was taken to the Military Hospital so that he could get specialized care,” he recalled. “People know they can count on us. We see it in their faces. They don’t have to say anything; we are here to help them with whatever is needed.” To the very last patient Units from all branches of the Honduran Armed Forces take part in these public health brigades — Army, Air Force, Navy, and Military Police — as well as medical groups from Joint Task Force Bravo, a unit of U.S. Southern Command that operates out of Soto Cano in Honduras. The two entities often join forces, especially when operating in remote areas such as La Mosquitia, in the east of the country. By the same token, if the school or institute where a public health brigade is being held is in need of repairs or some kind of improvement to its facilities, there is a group of service members in charge of putting a coat of fresh paint on the walls or fixing something that is damaged, or even doing roadwork in the village, to help the community. The health brigades start at 7:00 AM sharp, and they go all day, Col. Cerrato confirmed. “We don’t leave until we have served the very last patient,” he said proudly.