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New Horizons brings medical care to 12,414 Peruvians

AYACUCHO, Peru -- After three months of performing nine medical missions, New Horizons medical readiness training exercises have come to a close with a total of 12,414 Peruvians treated by Air Force and Navy medical reservists. 

From June 21 to Aug. 7, 86 service members provided free medical care to nine villages in the Ayacucho region of Peru as part of New Horizons - Peru 2008. New Horizons is a long-standing U.S. Southern Command sponsored program to bring humanitarian assistance to impoverished regions in Latin America and Caribbean nations. 

"The MEDRETE missions have been a success," said Senior Master Sgt. Teresa Denton-Price, Task Force New Horizons MEDRETE liaison officer and Air Combat Command superintendent, command readiness programs. "We've been able to see a good amount of the underserviced population in the Ayacucho region." 

All three MEDRETE teams brought doctors, nurses, dentists, optometrists, pharmaceutical technicians and public health specialists. The medical providers offered general medical care and diagnosis, dental check-ups and extractions, eye exams, pharmaceutical prescriptions and public health lessons. 

The medical providers came from all around the U.S. for the MEDRETE missions. The first MEDRETE brought 37 Airmen primarily from the 452nd Medical Group out of March Air Reserve Base, Calif., who treated patients at Yanamilla, San Cristobal and Chiara. The second MEDRETE had 30 Sailors from Operational Health Support Unit-Great Lakes, Ill., one of only two Reserve Field Units in the entire Navy, treat patients in San Juan Bautista, Cobadonga and Tambillo. For the final MEDRETE, 19 Airmen from the 433rd MDG out of Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, provided care to the villages of Carmen Alto, Mollepata and Quinua. 

Having participated in all nine MEDRETE missions, Sergeant Denton-Price found the health of the Peruvian people changed from town-to-town but the need for eye care was consistent in all locations. "We'd go to certain locations where the health was poor, bad teeth, parasites. Then we'd go to another population where the people were healthier," she said. 

"We had a lot more patients come to optometry than we expected to see due to the dust and exposure to the sun. " 

One of the biggest challenges for the teams was the language barrier. Although Spanish is Peru's national language, Quechua, the ancient Inca dialect of Peru, is still spoken by the older population. 

"Speaking Spanish wasn't a problem because every group brought Spanish speakers," said Sergeant Denton-Price. "We had nobody who spoke Quechua so we had to rely on the Peruvian people to help each other to understand, get translators or use the Peruvian guards who spoke the language." 

With thousands of Peruvians treated by New Horizons, the people deeply appreciated the medical missions. 

"The Peruvian people received us open-handed; they opened their arms up, came in and trusted us. We did each site for several days so after the first day, word would spread and more and more people would visit," Sergeant Denton-Price said. "As a matter of fact, instead of seeing the Peruvian doctors, they wanted to see the 'gringo' doctors." 

Although the MEDRETEs are over, giving medical care to the Peruvian people is not. Five full pallets of leftover medical supplies, including glasses and pharmaceuticals, are to be donated to the Ayacucho Ministry of Health . Leftover medications are to be stocked in the three medical clinics constructed by the task force in the villages of Yanama, Yanamilla and San Cristobal. 

"I couldn't be happier with how the MEDRETEs have gone," said Maj. Matt Joganich, Task Force New Horizons commander. "Seeing 12,414 in only 24 days is a total task force team effort. From the medical providers to the security team, from the logistics and civil affairs folks, to the volunteers, it's been an amazing three months of watching different services and career fields come together for the common goal of helping the Peruvian people." 

Besides performing medical missions, New Horizons - Peru 2008 will bring construction projects to the impoverished Ayacucho region. More than 950 rotating active duty, Reserve and Guard Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers have built three medical clinics, two school houses and a well for the Peruvian people. 

For more information on New Horizons, visit http://www.12af.acc.af.mil/library/newhorizons.asp.