The Honduran Armed Forces’ goal is to bring medical aid to more than a million people in 2018.
The Honduran Armed Forces began their annual civil-military action program on February 4, 2018, with two simultaneous medical mega-brigades in the north and central regions of the country. Various institutions, universities, local authorities, and personnel from the Department of Health participated in the humanitarian aid that covered more than half of Honduras.
Almost 69,000 people from the departments of Cortés, Atlántida, Yoro, Colón, Francisco Morazán, and Comayagua benefitted from the development assistance campaign. Residents of isolated, rural communities, who lack healthcare services and other resources, received medical care, preventive medicine consultations, and supplies.
Some 400 Honduran Armed Forces troops, both medical and military personnel, participated in the mega-brigades to serve the population. A total of 900 volunteers, including more than 100 general practitioners and specialists, also joined the humanitarian mission.
“The coordination is at the institutional level, for which there is specialized personnel, and strategic alliances were established with public and private institutions, including some universities,” Honduran Navy Captain José Domingo Meza, director of public relations for the Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “To designate an area where a medical brigade will go, the main factor we take into account is poverty level.”
Mental and physical health
Adults, children, and senior citizens stood in long lines starting early in the morning to be seen by personnel comprising general practitioners and specialists such as gastroenterologists; ear, nose, and throat specialists; dermatologists; dentists, and other health professionals. In addition to medical consultations, dental care, lab tests, and free medications, patients received donations of clothes, blankets, school supplies, and food.
“Every member of the Armed Forces served people from different social strata with a great deal of dedication,” Capt. Meza said. “[They served them] without prejudice, including children, the elderly, and people with physical disabilities.”
More than medical aid, the brigades give the people a welcome break from the difficulties of daily life. From entertainment for the youngest ones, with areas for games, piñatas, and sweets, to recreational activities for adults such as music and dancing, the day turns into a festival when brigades arrive.
“Our presence is something that contributes to emotional health, and, in a way, it represents an economical gain for the town’s residents, since it not only promotes physical health, but also patients’ mental health,” said to Diálogo Captain Lester E. Uclés, a dentist from the Honduran Armed Forces Military Hospital headquartered in Tegucigalpa. “While some people receive medical care and medications, others have some good, clean fun.”
Patients also benefited from personal grooming, with haircuts and hair dyes for women. The Armed Forces also offered legal support through consultations using available resources to help resolve different problems. “The military personnel is welcomed with tokens of affection and gratitude, which are reflected in the high levels of trust that the population demonstrates,” Capt. Meza said.
According to the Pan American Health Organization’s report Health in the Americas+ 2017, and the latest available figures, 65 percent of Honduran households lived below the poverty line in 2013, with 43 percent in extreme poverty. The report also highlights viral infections transmitted by mosquitos (dengue, chikugunya, and zika) and the prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure, which reaffirms the importance of the annual brigades.
“Residents’ health is directly proportional to how remote the city is,” Capt. Uclés explained. “The more remote the place, the worse their health is.”
Capt. Meza emphasized the military’s role in the brigades. “Their contribution is significant,” he said. “The military personnel visit hard-to-reach places where it would be difficult to meet these needs any other way.”
With the launch of the 2018 mega-brigades, the Armed Forces wish to provide medical aid to more than a million individuals in need, with 136 brigades in various regions around the country. In 2017, 1.1 million people received help through 131 brigades.
“I joined the brigades in 2006. My multiple visits to the country’s rural communities changed my perspective. The brigades are welcomed with gratitude and are valued by the townspeople,” Capt. Uclés concluded. “Getting close to the people this way is incredibly rewarding, something that money cannot buy. For me, a weekend in a brigade is not a sacrifice, it’s a pleasure.”