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Horn of Africa Task Force Helps Through Health

By Sgt. Brian E. McElaney, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

AMRAN, Yemen, Jan. 11, 2006 – If 2-year-old Ebtisam Salim could have talked, she would have complained of having had diarrhea and a fever for almost two weeks. But she was nearly unconscious when she arrived at the Sahab Clinic in Bani Momoon here, suffering from extreme dehydration and a temperature of 103.2.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A local doctor explains medicine dosage amounts to patients at the Sahab Clinic in Bani Momoon, Yemen, during a Medical Civil Action Plan project there. Local doctors and Yemeni Ministry of Health officials teamed up with doctors and medics from the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa to provide free health care to hundreds of local villagers in the Amran governorate. Photo by Sgt. Brian E. McElaney, USMC

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Salim was just one of hundreds of people who received medical treatment in late December during a Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa Medical Civil Action Plan event in Amran.

During the MedCAP, doctors and civil affairs team medics from the task force teamed up with local practitioners and Yemeni Ministry of Health officials to offer free treatment and prescriptions at clinics in Bani Momoon, Thula and Hababa.

"We were providing basic treatment, but it was still critical because we were often able to identify possible future problems and help," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Victor Perales, a medic with F Company, 96th Civil Affairs. "This is a large part of CJTF-HOA's mission in that it helps stabilize the region."

Amram boasts an excellent system of clinics but has trouble keeping up with the volume of need in the area, said Levi Shearer, the medic from Civil Affairs Team A 611. Only four doctors are available to provide care for a population of more than 14,000.

Many who came for assistance had already been seen by a local doctor but could not afford the necessary treatments or medications. Salim's case was an example of this, said Shearer. Her medical problems, even though life threatening, might have been fixed with over-the-counter medications.

"The family could have forced something with electrolytes," said Shearer as an example, "but even if they could find something like a sports drink, they most likely couldn't afford it. I'm glad I can help. It's all part of the job."

Each of the more than 1,300 people who saw a doctor received multivitamins, anti-parasite medication and oral-hygiene items, as did 600 more who received grab bags of the same items outside the gates at the end of each day. Also, prescriptions for everything from painkillers to antibiotics were filled free of charge.

"There are so many people who need help," said Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Ciotti, a medic with the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion Civic Action Team. "You can only do so much, and you always end up wondering if you could have done more. I just wanted to fill as many prescriptions as we had people who saw doctors, and we were able to do that."

This was the second MedCAP conducted in Yemen, and it is part of a larger humanitarian aid effort being conducted by the task force at the request of the Yemeni government. Local and national government leaders invite civil affairs teams into various areas to nominate projects that range from MedCAPs and VetCAPs to school and hospital renovations, said Billy Wilkins, CAT-A 611 team leader.

"These are exactly the kinds of projects we're most capable of doing," Wilkins said. "As a civil affairs organization, it's what we're designed to do, to help better our relations with the Yemeni people."

Many of the team members had the chance to gain personal friendships as well, not only with the people they treated, but also with the Yemeni translators and doctors they worked alongside, said Maj. Jim Riche, 404th civil affairs veterinarian and MedCAP commander.

Working together gave everyone the chance to learn about each other's cultures, as well as the chance to grow personally and professionally through helping others.

"Dealing with the kids is very rewarding, especially when you have a kid of your own. ... It's like they all become your own," said Army Capt. Anthony Evanego, 404th civil affairs officer. "At the end of the day, it felt very good knowing what we did. I was able to help a few individuals, but more than that, we did a lot for the relationship between the U.S. and Yemen."

Salim's temperature came back down to normal, and a much happier and healthier-looking girl left the clinic. Shearer warned her mother that the young girl could become sick again, but gave her antibiotics and other medicines to help keep her strong enough to recover.

It's work like this, he said, that will eventually win the war against terror.

"You can hand out soccer balls and gifts all day," he said, "but if you can provide for their health and improve their quality of life, you'll make a huge impact."

(Marine Corps Sgt. Brian E. McElaney is assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa public affairs.)

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