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Medical Team Examines, Treats Nearly 1,500 African Patients

By By Tech. Sgt. Devin L. Fisher, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

STUTTGART-VAIHINGEN, Germany, Jan. 5, 2007 – U.S. troops in Rwanda and Botswana recently built bridges between the U.S. military and the African people by providing vital medical services to almost 1,500 needy patients.

The troops took part in a U.S. European Command Medical Civilian Assistance Program exercise, one of several events that are a part of the U.S. EUCOM's Security Cooperation Division's Humanitarian and Civic Assistance Program. MEDCAPs are designed to provide medical and dental outreach to local civilian populations within the command's 92-nation area of operation.

Air Force Capt. Christie Barton, an optometrist with the 435th Aeromedical Squadron based on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, recalled the gratification she and the other four members of her medical team experienced as they treated 1,469 patients early last month.

In one case, a withdrawn elderly man entered the makeshift optometry clinic tent in Rwanda, hunched over nearly crawling so he could see the ground and avoid any obstacles on his way to the exam chair. But he walked out standing tall with a grin from ear to ear.

"It was like he was a different person," said Barton. She recalled the strong pair of spectacles weren't attractive and barely fit, but "his simple smile said it all."

To this day, Barton said she’s still not sure if the patients or the providers gain more from the experience.

The Humanitarian and Civic Assistance Program provides the funding that enables the military medical teams to offer free basic medical and dental care for villagers. U.S. Embassy staffs select the locations and inform the villagers of the event. By interacting with foreign military forces and exposing local civilian populations to positive contacts with U.S. military members, the United States hopes to strengthen counter-terrorism capabilities.

Winning the “hearts and minds” of the locals with these MEDCAPs is part of European Command's ongoing Theater Security Cooperation strategy, officials here explain.

The goal of this MEDCAP was to familiarize the Rwanda and Botswana militaries with the programs, procedures and concepts for managing U.S. military preventive medical practices and deployed medical operations, said Air Force Lt. Col. Vince Gill from the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Surgeon General's Office, who served as the team lead.

The team conducted medical exchange seminars at the Kanombe military hospital in Kigali, Rwanda, inside a tent at the Returnee Camp on the Tanzanian border, and at the Sir Seretse Khama Barracks in Gaborone, Botswana.

The dental topics included expeditionary dentistry, soft tissue injuries, diseases of the mouth, oral hygiene and pediatric dentistry, while optometry topics focused on expeditionary optometry, causes of blindness and eye diseases. Additional seminars discussed medical operations planning, infection control, field sanitation and hygiene, triage, patient evacuation and self aid and buddy care.

"The next step is conducting interoperability clinics with the host-nation medical personnel to demonstrate implementation of the topics covered during the seminars," Gill said. The dental services are limited primarily to exams, extractions, simple surgical procedures, treatment for oral infections and oral hygiene education. Optometry services include exams, treatment for infections and eyeglasses, if required.

"The missions were very productive and valuable for us," Gill said. "We saw many cases of disease typically only seen in books."

(Tech. Sgt. Devin L. Fisher is assigned to U.S. European Command Public Affairs.)

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