Rural communities in the department of Choluteca, on the border with Nicaragua, benefitted from medical assistance provided through a U.S. military humanitarian aid campaign. From October 26th–28th, 2017, people in Comalí, Duyure, and Monjaras received medical care and took preventive medicine courses.
Members of Joint Task Force Bravo’s (JTF-Bravo) Medical Element, under U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), headquartered at Soto Cano Air Base in Comayagua, Honduras, conducted a Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) in support of the Honduran Ministry of Health. A 42-person brigade from JTF-Bravo, including medical and military personnel, deployed to southern Honduras to help local residents. More than 100 Honduran service members, general practitioners, and medical specialists also joined their peers from JTF-Bravo.
“Our personnel practices working in remote towns with limited resources, and trains on the operational aspects of transferring from one place to another,” Dr. Carlos Alberto Durón, Honduran medical liaison at JTF-Bravo, told Diálogo. “The brigade deployed from Soto Cano Air Base to the 4th Battalion of the 101st Infantry Brigade [of the Honduran Army] in Choluteca to set up the base of operations.”
The medical campaign was met with “joy, hospitality, [and] a warm welcome,” with student dances held at the various educational centers where the healthcare activities were held, Durón said. “Children and adults [greeted us with] smiles and spontaneous hugs in gratitude for the medical care so long yearned for.”
The communities of Choluteca received basic medical services, dental care, and tooth extractions, as well as bags full of medicine, vitamins, and soap. Patients also took a class on preventive medicine, which provided important information on how to prevent common illnesses.
“These communities are located in a dry corridor, in an area with food insecurity and health risks,” Durón said. “As such, there are a lot of medical needs.”
The objective of MEDRETEs in Honduras includes training U.S. and Honduran service members and providing medical care, civic, and humanitarian aid. “In Honduras, these visits are coordinated a year in advance by the ambassador and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] representatives at the U.S. Embassy, and by officials from the Ministry of Health, together with our accredited military group at the embassy,” Durón explained.
Communities are selected according to medical priorities. Depending on their needs, brigades deploy general practitioners, surgeons, or surgical specialists. The most common surgeries are for the middle ear, ophthalmology, and dental care.
Cases vary though, and, at times, MEDRETEs have surprisingly good timing. Durón recalled the case of a 35-year-old single mom who walked for more than two hours to get care in Duyure. The patient complained of intense chest pain, anxiety, nausea, and trouble breathing. Upon taking her vital signs, Durón noted her high blood pressure. “We immediately diagnosed her with hypertensive crisis, a serious increase in blood pressure that can lead to a stroke. We proceeded to administer an emergency intravenous treatment until her blood pressure returned to normal and symptoms went away.”
“I was very moved to see such solidarity by the authorities in Duyure and the governor of that department,” Durón added. “They immediately placed themselves at her disposal to meet the patient’s needs, ensuring her timely access to monthly treatment at her health center.”
Infantry Colonel Héctor Orlando Espinal Aguilar, commander of the 101st Brigade of the Honduran Army, described as invaluable the experience of ‟sharing this joint effort with JTF-Bravo to bring medical care to communities with scarce resources, thereby strengthening the bonds of cooperation with U.S. Southern Command.” Likewise, MEDRETEs deepen the bonds of friendship between the United States and the host nation.
The exercises raise the service members’ level of readiness for natural disasters and increase cooperation between the U.S. personnel and their peers in the host nation. “[In Choluteca] we liaised with community leaders, and through the logistics deployed, we provided means to transfer support personnel and medicine to the chosen locations,” Col. Espinal said.
A track record of community service
The first MEDRETE dates back to 1993. Since then, U.S. service members from SOUTHCOM provided humanitarian aid and medical services to more than 450,000 people in Central America and the Caribbean.
JTF-Bravo plans to conduct three MEDRETEs in the departments of Ocotepeque, El Paraíso, and Gracias a Dios in 2018. “I see it as an important joint humanitarian effort for JTF-Bravo and the Honduran Army to join forces to aid communities with scarce resources,” Col. Espinal concluded. “It allows us to strengthen the bonds of friendship and cooperation between our armies.”