On May 18, the Carmelita Government School campus courtyard of Belize’s Orange Walk District transformed from a center of education into a field hospital providing care for over 300 people. The Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) medical team, Tradewinds 22 medical team, and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducted a medical event, with preventative medicine courses, pediatrics, optometry, and dental.
“Public outreach is one of our big focuses,” said U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Kerstin Dickerson, operations chief SCO Belize. “We reach out to rural areas to let them know of services. Optometry is a new one that has proven to be very popular.”
JTF-Bravo partnered with a local NGO to bring the community optometry care and glasses.
“It is a need that JTF-Bravo was not able to fulfill on their own,” Chief Petty Officer Dickerson said. “But with the expanded resources of Tradewinds and partnering with the NGO, we’re able to offer that service for the first time here.”
Rita Witzil, an optometrist with Belize Council for the Vision Impaired (BCVI), the partner NGO for optometry, was on site to provide care vision checkups for patients.
“With BCVI it’s not just giving out glasses, we are targeting people who have eye diseases and need surgery,” Witzil said. “We also refer people who are blind to rehabilitation services. With this outreach we’re able to reach more people who are suffering and can’t get to help.”
BCVI has the ability to continue care for patients after medical events. At Carmelita Government School, BCVI can provide more targeted care for school-aged children in Orange Walk who have vision impairments.
“We’ve found that a lot of our students on the primary school level don’t get the proper nutrition and that is why we have a lot of problems with eyesight,” said Hector Morales, Education Officer for Orange Walk District, Belize. “This is a problem with all 38 schools in the district. This affects their performance. Some of our students suffer with headaches and blurred vision because of eyesight and then they can’t perform as well as they can. We have to be cognizant of those issues, so we’re glad the U.S. and NGOs are here to help us out.”
The help was well received according to Orange Walk residents such as Amauri Hyde who was able to have a follow-up check of her eyes after a recent eye surgery, two pairs of glasses, and prescription medications.
“It’s a great experience for me because these people are very hospitable,” Hyde said.
“I admire these people because I don’t have to ask any questions,” Hyde said. “They do this in an organized fashion. We don’t have to go about asking questions. They tell you exactly where to go, what to do, and you don’t have to wait for long. I like that.”
The Honorable Kevin Bernard, minister of Health and Wellness for Belize, attended and toured the event.
“These are programs that benefit our society and our people,” Bernard said. “When our people are healthy, our nation is healthy. I want to thank the U.S. government for coming out and offering these services to help our nation be healthier.”
The medical event moved to Santa Marta on May 19 before concluding.
Tradewinds is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored Caribbean-focused exercise designed to expand the region’s capability to mitigate, plan for, and respond to crises; strengthen partnerships; and increase regional training capacity and interoperability. Tradewinds 2022, was carried out May 7-21 in Belize and Mexico, with the participation of 22 partner nations.