U.S. Air Force medics treat 8,300 Panamanians during MEDRETE
By Capt. Ben Sakrisson , Air University Public Affairs
/ Published July 29, 2008
Panama City, Panama -- U.S. Air Force medics here returned to the United States July 26 after providing humanitarian medical aid to more than 8,300 underprivliged Panamanians during a two-week Medical Readiness Training Exercise.
The 16-person medical team from seven different military installations treated patients diagnosed with numerous cases of glaucoma, uncontrolled diabetes and cataracts in addition to extracting teeth and providing general medical education during MEDRETE Panama.
With so much needed medical care, the challenge was to decide on what level of care to provide during the MEDRETE. A full exam of every patient is time consuming but a quick surface-level examination may miss existing medical conditions. Care level and time constraints were balanced through the number of patients seen each day.
"We try to balance doing the greatest good for the greatest number with providing a minimum level of care that captures serious conditions," said Lt. Col. Joseph A. Lopez, the MEDRETE Panama Mission Commander deployed from the 42nd Medical Group at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., "but that minimum level of care varies between medical specialties."
This lesson extends beyond an environment back to the home station where resource and personnel constraints remain a very real reality.
Panamanian and U.S. Air Force medical personnel here exceeded the initially anticipated 400-600 patients seen each day by working long hours at a manic pace and averaging over 800 patients per day.
Annually, the MEDRETE initiative includes the participation of more than 1,900 U.S. personnel treating more than 200,000 patients. The Panama deployment is part of the ongoing U.S. Southern Command MEDRETE initiative in Central, South America and the Caribbean. Air Forces Southern, the Air and Space component to SOUTHCOM, is responsible for managing all Air Force-related MEDRETEs. This year, AFSOUTH is scheduled to execute 29 MEDRETEs.