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Joint Medical Team Provides Assistance to Laos

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii, July 9, 1996 – A 14member humanitarian assistance team will arrive in Vientiane, Laos, July 16 to begin turning over more than $1 million in excess medical equipment to the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

Working with the Laos Civil Affairs Liaison Team and Joint Task ForceFull Accounting, the Pacific Command joint medical team will set up medical and surgical equipment and demonstrate its use to Laotian medical personnel.

In all, three teams will deploy to Laos between midJuly and Aug. 27, said Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Colon, Pacific Air Forces chief of medical plans, operations and readiness. They will deliver and set up the equipment at Phounsavan Provincial Hospital.

Team members will be drawn from units at Hickam; Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; Kadena, Misawa and Yokota Air bases, Japan; and Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii. Each team will remain in Laos two weeks. The equipment they'll provide ranges from large power generators to tiny surgical staples.

Cambodia received similar assistance in 1995, Colon said. The earlier package included a complete mobile surgical field hospital, he said, as well as training of Cambodian military medics. Air Force Col. Phyllis Easley led the team to Cambodia and will head the third team into Laos this summer. She said this time could be more challenging because of the rugged conditions team members will face.

"The hospital is located in a rugged, mountainous area, and we'll be there during the monsoon season," Easley explained. "In addition, a majority of the population does not have access to potable [drinkable] water. Conditions are primitive and unhealthy, to say the least."

Because Laos has a 10 percent infant mortality rate and an average life expectancy of 52 years, the humanitarian assistance package may have only a small impact on Laotian health concerns, conceded Dr. (Col.) Joe Kelley, Pacific Air Forces command surgeon. But like the Cambodian assistance that preceded it, the aid to Laos will help strengthen political relations between the United States and Laos, he said.

"For example, [the United States] hasn't had overly friendly relations with India, yet we have begun medical interchanges, and they are now pushing for further exchanges," Kelley said. "In addition, we will probably provide medical assistance to Vietnam in the future, as well as to Mongolia and even China."

Humanitarian assistance builds the status of the United States in the eyes of the recipients, Kelley said. Such programs, he added, are integral to decreasing tensions and preventing war.

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