SOUTHCOM Builds Family and Community Health Unit in El Salvador
By Lorena Baires/Diálogo September 12, 2018U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) handed over the keys of the new Family and Community Health Unit to the people of Zacatecoluca municipality in El Salvador, July 27, 2018. The new unit will expand maternal-child health services in the region. The facility is the latest project of the humanitarian aid military exercise Beyond the Horizon 2018.
“We delivered a public health project earlier than scheduled. In the span of 90 days, service members of the United States, El Salvador, and Peru showed we can do great work [together],” said U.S. Army Colonel Israel Romero, commander of the humanitarian mission’s Combined Joint Task Force Hope in El Salvador. “We provided a service to the community; we are sowing seeds for the next generation.”
On May 31st, construction of the new facility began next to the Dr. Carlos Alberto Galeano Peripheral Health Center. “We couldn’t expand the center since it was built, yet demand increases every year,” said Dr. Mauricio Linares, director of the center. “Now we have the opportunity to provide better preventive and curative care, thanks to SOUTHCOM.”
The Salvadoran Ministry of Health estimates the project will benefit more than 23,000 patients from Zacatecoluca, San Juan Nonualco, San Rafael Obrajuelo, Santiago Nonualco, and Tecocula municipalities. “We needed to create this space, because it will allow us to sustain health reforms and increase services for the population,” said Dinora Virginia Chávez, coordinator of the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s Basic System of Integrated Health. “We expect to see an average of 300 patients a day.”
The health center is located above a gorge prone to floods. In 2016, the Ministry of Health carried out a series of renovations to prevent water currents from damaging the building: Workers made a vault, replaced the sewer system, set up toilets for patients, and installed new cubicles for the administrative staff.
The new building has 10 modules for medical consultations, with a clinical lab and a pharmacy. “The benefit is certainly great,” Dr. Linares said. “For example, we can now treat patients with tuberculosis. We couldn’t do so in the past; we couldn’t provide full treatment.”
United for health
During Beyond the Horizon 2018, U.S. service members carried out five medical campaigns providing services in pediatrics, gynecology, dentistry, geriatrics, and ophthalmology. During each campaign, more than 1,000 people from the El Espino district and the Cosme Spessotto community received daily care in Zacatecoluca, San Luis Talpa, and Ocoluilta.
“We had six medical rotations in two clinics and two ambulances for the four locations,” said U.S. Army Captain Sabrina King, officer in charge of the mission’s Task Force Med. “Our clinics provided treatment mostly for women and children. We also provided pharmacy and nursing services. We are proud to have helped so many people in need.”
The arrival of military doctors was a relief for locals who suffer from illnesses and lack the financial means to access healthcare and medicine. “I had severe dental problems, and I thought I would lose all my teeth,” said Juan Antonio Flores of Zacatecoluca municipality. “Doctors saved my teeth and relieved the awful headaches I had for a long time. I have no way of thanking them for this change in my life.”
“The health unit and schools built are projects that will benefit Salvadorans for years to come,” said Salvadoran Army Colonel Ricardo Rodríguez, commander of Task Force La Paz. “This is the largest legacy we can leave when two armies join to help people in need.”
Beyond the Horizon provided healthcare to disadvantaged people in El Salvador, carrying out engineering works to strengthen local humanitarian aid response capabilities and disaster recovery. The three-month-long exercise, which started May 31st, counted with the participation of more than 2,000 Army South service members, rotating in groups of 500.
“Our troops gained valuable experience from civil and military experts in El Salvador, ensuring quick responses from both nations to future humanitarian emergencies and civic relief efforts in the region,” said U.S. Army Brigadier General Ellen Clark, deputy commanding general and director of the Army Reserve Engagement Cell at U.S. Army South. “The exercise helped strengthen our relationships and our capability to work jointly and respond to disasters in the future.”
Several U.S. and Salvadoran non-governmental organizations joined the exercise. Together, they donated medicines to supply the new maternal-child care unit and help improve services to be provided in the region from now on.