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New Horizons Honduras Medical Team Arrives in Tocoa

  • Published
  • By Capt. David J. Murphy
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern)
The New Horizons Honduras 2015 training exercise's Tocoa, Honduras, medical team arrived in Tocoa Monday, June 15, 2015.

The nine-person medical team, led by 12th Air Force Surgeon General's International Health Specialists U.S. Air Force Maj. Joshua Vess and Capt. Deandre Opoku, will spend 10 days in the city conducting a vector-borne disease surveillance program in an effort to eradicate malaria in the region by 2018.

"Our mission here is to continue developing a partnership with our Honduran counterparts and work directly with the Ministry of Health focusing on malaria eradication," said Opoku.

The team also includes Dr. Miguel Coello, Medical Element medical officer, Joint Task Force Bravo, out of Soto Cano Air Force Base, Honduras, and a Honduran native.

"From the local MoH point of view it's a great opportunity for getting newer information that comes in part from building local capacity," said Coello, "the MoH was very specific in that the inclusion of etymologists will be directly improving the capacity of the three etymology missions that they have and that presence will improve [the MoH's] capacity to face these diseases they are trying to eradicate."

The 10-day exercise will include education, workshops with medical professionals, mosquito trapping, the identification of potential breeding areas and collaboration with peers.

"The things that we have to learn from them is that they are day in, day out doing this work that is important," said Wess, "at the same time there may be some techniques, procedures and academic advances some of our team may be able to share in that fight, so there is definitely an opportunity to learn from one another."

Tocoa was identified as an exercise location due to a recent outbreak of malaria, which included eight cases discovered in the region in a week, more cases than the department of Colon experienced all last year. The team will also examine cases of leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by certain types of sandflies. The Honduran Army's 15th Battalion, the unit working hand in hand with U.S. Air Force security forces to provide security to New Horizons personnel, had six cases of the disease.

In addition to providing information and feedback to the MoH and it's doctors, the Tocoa team will also be providing support to follow-on entities.

"The Navy is coming, so part of out job this week is to build a follow-on engagement plan with them and material list to identify the gaps that we see and identify engagement opportunities," said Wess.

While the team will interact with patients during the exercise they will not directly treat paitents.

"We're shoulder to shoulder with the doctors seeing patients but we did not bring our credentials to treat patients. We're really here to exchange information and discuss the cases so we can learn from one another," said Wess.

The Tocoa medical team is made up multiple career fields from bases throughout the Air Force and includes public health officers and technicians, dentists, global public health officers, infectious disease doctors, an entomologist and lab officers.

While the Tocoa mission focuses on health and medicine it is not considered a medical readiness training exercises or MEDRETE.

"This is a first for the New Horizons mission because we're trying to work side by side with the MoH, looking at a disease process, looking how to improve that. So this is a new training opportunity we're trying to take advantage of in New Horizons. It's different than in the past where it was more focused on clinical provision of care. Instead we see this as a more enduring benefit than just treating patients," said Wess.

New Horizons Honduras 2015 is 90-day training exercise primarily based out of the Trujillo region of Honduras. New Horizons 2015 includes personnel from the 823d RED HORSE Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Fla., the 271st Marine Wing Support Squadron, out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., medical professionals and other specialists from throughout the Air Force.  Exercise projects involve building a two-classroom building in Ocotes Alto, drilling a well in Honduras Aguan and providing emergency room and surgical support at Dr. Salvador Paredes hospital in Trujillo.

New Horizons was launched in the 1980s and is an annual joint humanitarian assistance exercise that U.S. Southern Command conducts with a partner nation in Central America, South America or the Caribbean. The exercise improves joint training readiness of U.S. and partner nation civil engineers, medical professionals and support personnel through humanitarian assistance activities.