LA PAZ, Honduras –
Noise ranging from crying babies to playing toddlers fills a pink waiting room in a small clinic as dozens of mothers sit and wait.
‘Proximo’, or next, is called, as a parent-child pair in a remote mountain village is ready to be seen.
Medics from Joint Task Force - Bravo’s Medical Element (MEDEL) and 1st Battalion 228th Aviation Regiment partnered to help assess the needs of Florida de San Jose, a small community of La Paz, Honduras, during a Pediatric Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE), May 22-23.
“We were assessing and managing malnutrition of a local pediatric community that the Honduran Ministry of Health selected,” said U.S. Army Capt. Allyssa Montemayor, MEDEL registered nurse and officer-in-charge of the MEDRETE. “They completed an assessment where they studied a community to see what the public health needs were. After the needs were identified they wanted us to collect further data on this public health issue. We collect all this data and report it to the Ministry of Health in hopes of creating public health policies for them and also our medics, nurses and providers get real-life training within the local population in a public health setting.”
The medical team comprised of a registered nurse, medics, physicians, and a public health nurse and technician to perform evaluations of the children, ages ranging from 6 months to 5 years old.
“When we get there we screen the mothers and children and have them fill out paperwork,” Montemayor said. “Then they go to the first station with the medics and the nurses, and we measure their height, weight, brachial circumference, and also their hemoglobin.”
Montemayor explained that hemoglobin is a molecule found in red blood cells that transports oxygen to the rest of the body and when factored in with other body measurements can be an indicator for malnutrition.
“We plug all those values into the statistical calculator that helps to determine whether the child is malnourished or not,” she continued. “It also takes into account the elevation of where we are implementing the study. All of this is really important because the higher the altitude in which the study is conducted, a person requires more hemoglobin in their blood because there is less air pressure to inhale adequate amounts of oxygen.
“In both of the studies conducted in March and May we found that almost 50% of the children didn’t have sufficient hemoglobin levels indicating that they had pernicious anemia,” she explained. “This is a type of anemia that can be prevented by proper nutrition.”
Members of MEDEL’s public health section also played a key role during the training.
“The MEDRETE is focused on leaving a lasting legacy and public health plays a big part,” Montemayor explained. “We can’t cure or fix their problems, but we can provide them with education, which will resonate throughout generations and maybe help prevent these problems in the future.”
U.S. Army Maj. Jorge Chaves, MEDEL public health nurse, agrees that these impacts can lead to future change. While conducting surveys of the area he also briefed the local residents on children’s diet, vaccinations, and hygiene and environmental precautions.
“Education is usually the first step in change,” Chaves said. ”By putting those things in place we can have an impact on not just today. We can have an impact on how well a community develops from a health perspective over time. And by collecting that data today and hopefully returning in the future, now we have two data points to compare to find out if our interventions are effective.
Aside from providing preventative health information to the community, public health also collects data from the environment to include trapping mosquitos to see what diseases they may carry; along with testing water samples. The results are also provided to the Honduran Ministry of Health.
The MEDRETES provide information to the host nation but also serves as learning moment for all involved.
“They want us to be there, they look forward to working with us and its very exciting for them and its very eye opening for us.” Chavez said in regards to working with the local practitioners. “Sometimes we can do the right things and do them in different ways. So it’s not a better than, or compare and contrast type of thing. It’s an opportunity to learn from them techniques and applications that work in this setting and for them to learn from us best practices and the application of resources that we have.”
Montemayor agrees that that experience is one of a kind.
“For JTF- Bravo, Pediatric MEDRETES meet the line of efforts that includes fostering and strengthening host nation partnerships and it is a great opportunity to train our physicians in their area of concentration that we wouldn’t have in the United States.,” Montemayor said. “A lot of the things we see here in Honduras we wouldn’t see in the United States. So it is a unique training opportunity that helps to build the skills and knowledge of our service members.”