Air Force health care team aids first joint humanitarian effort in rural Costa Rica
By Airman 1st Class Steve Bauer , 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 21, 2009
NORTHERN PROVINCE OF ALAJUELA, Costa Rica -- A team of Air Force medical specialists began joint humanitarian efforts with local Costa Rican medical professionals here May 18.
With security provided courtesy of the Costa Rican government, the health care providers will spend two weeks delivering basic and specialty care to people living in remote locations.
This joint mission marks the first time in history Costa Rica has allowed a full medical specialty team to enter the country. The first day of the operation, the team treated more than 500 local residents in the clinical areas of adult medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, gynecology, optometry, public health, dental care and pharmaceuticals.
''One very positive thing about our team is how we have hit the ground running so quickly,'' said Lt. Col. Mario Silva, the 30th Medical Operations Squadron chief of medical staff. ''I have heard many comments from the local residents about how efficient we are and how promptly we began seeing patients when we first arrived to the clinics in the morning.''
Patients lined up at the cordoned-off entrance of the clinic where they were met by a Spanish-speaking team member who processes the guests into the clinic in a sequenced order. The patients were then allowed two provider visits.
"Everything has been going great," said Lt. Col. Erich Murrell, the 30th Medical Support Squadron commander. "We have been able to process approximately 200 patients into the clinic within the first hour of operation each day. Typical of Air Force Airmen, our team is working really well together and everybody is helping each other out."
The joint health care team has spent much of their time planning and constructing areas within three local schools in which to operate and provide medical treatment.
The schools are divided into sections and rooms based on different medical specialties. The rooms were set up to replicate a hospital setting. The team used clothes they had with them as makeshift curtains to cover the windows and provide the patients with privacy.
Given time constraints, the number of patients and sparse locations, the team can only provide care for immediate needs due to limitations of advanced care. Some of the common problems within the region include gastroenteritis, otitis media, skin conditions, urinary tract infections, lumbago and dental pain.
Helping provide better health care in Costa Rica came after many hours of planning.
Approximately one year after requesting to participate in a humanitarian relief operation, the 30th MDG was selected by Air Force South Command and Air Force Space Command to conduct a HUMRO and medical deployment for training in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican embassy requested the Air Force's aid in the northern region of Alajuela because there is a large number of migrant workers and rural communities where residents do not have access to specialty medical care.
Having an opportunity to help meet Costa Rica's medical needs is a two-way street of benefits for the patient and the Air Force medical professional.
"There are two reasons why this mission is important to me," Colonel Murrell said. "First, I am a people person and any chance I get to go out and help people is great. Secondly, the Air Force, and the military in general, sometimes gets a bad name; but we are here to make a difference and this is exactly what we love doing."
Since the Air Force is only able to provide health care for two weeks, this may be the only opportunity for many of these local residents to receive care and knowledge about health care. Due to their rural locations, they are at a disadvantage to visit Costa Rican physicians. Even though the team is well aware of this fact, everyone on the team remains motivated to do as much as they can in the time they are in the country.
"I would say it is better that these people have the opportunity to be healthy for two or three months, rather than to have never been seen by health care professionals," Colonel Murrell said. "Our goal while we are in Costa Rica is to have a positive effect on each person we encounter here so they might remember the fact that the Air Force was very helpful and America does good things all around the world."