LA PAZ, Honduras -- Service members and medical personnel performed an ongoing pediatric nutritional assessment of three villages within Department of La Paz, Honduras, from Nov. 7 to 9, 2017.

Joint Task Force - Bravo Medical Element partnered with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Honduran Ministry of Health and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Matazano, Humuya and Tepanguare, to assess the health and nutritional status of children between the ages of six to 60 months. To do that, the Honduran MOH randomly selected children from remote locations in La Paz who fell within the required age group and contacted their families to participate in the assessment.

The mutually beneficial relationship facilitates U.S. service members conducting military training in a multitude of locations while also providing a social and economic service to the Honduran community.

Comprised of the 612th Air Base Squadron, 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, Joint Security Forces and Army Forces Battalion, JTF-Bravo possesses a spectrum of capabilities that support joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational operations and activities throughout Central America.

Prior to this mission, pediatric nutritional assessments and agricultural interventions took place in conjunction with JTF-Bravo's Medical Readiness Training Exercises.

"When I started working at JTF-Bravo, studies had been taking place in coordination with the Honduran MOH for a couple of years to determine the nutritional status of children less than 5 years old in different municipalities in the Department of La Paz," said Dr. Miguel Coello, medical liaison officer from JTF-Bravo MEDEL. "The Honduran MOH saw that this ongoing project was providing valuable data on the status of children and because we have the mobility to travel by ground or by air to reach very remote locations the partnership continues to grow."

One of two task forces under United States Southern Command, JTF-Bravo is an expeditionary task force that is readily available to support ongoing USAID agricultural and food security projects in the CENTAM region.

Assessment sites were identified through close coordination with USAID and the Honduran MOH to ensure that the JTF-Bravo MEDEL mission complemented without duplicating services already being provided in the region.

Specifically, the data from these assessments assists the USAID and partner non-governmental organizations like Fintrac, with their assessments in the western departments of Honduras: La Paz, Intibuc√°, Santa Barbara, Copan and Ocotepeque.

Fintrac is a consulting company contracted by USAID to assist in developing agricultural solutions to end hunger and poverty by developing interventions to improve market system competiveness and increase participation from smallholder farmers.

"We reached out to the WRNMMC and Uniformed Services University team with the hope of developing an enduring relationship for the future and for them to explore the potential value for their residency training program," said Coello.

The mission brought military medical personnel from WRNMMC and USU that included a Pediatric Nephrologist and Gastroenterologist, a Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition fellow and a first year resident.

"Meeting real-word needs while getting real-world training is invaluable," said U.S. Navy Capt. Gregory Gorman, residency program director for USU and Associate Professor of Pediatrics. "The liaison medical officers at JTF-Bravo do a fantastic job at maximizing the benefit of all parties involved."

A crucial part of both the JTF-Bravo MEDEL mission and military-unique curriculum for uniformed pediatricians is to train in austere conditions that prepare them to respond during Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations, which can involve the need to understand the nutritional status and needs of the population in the region.

"The nutritional aspect is an important part of our fellowship training, and we are encouraged to learn about the standard diets of urban and rural communities," said U.S. Army Capt. Claire Daniels, a Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition fellow with the Walter Reed Department of Pediatrics. "This mission will help us to provide our expertise in the evaluation and treatment of malnutrition."

Pediatric patients were being screened for nutritional deficiencies and hemoglobin levels were tested to detect the severity of anemia in the children, which was conducted via blood tests that provided results within seconds of the sample being taken.

"All three villages were screened for height or length, weight and arm circumference measurements during the assessments," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Isavelita Goodearly, a public health nurse with the JTF-Bravo MEDEL Preventative Medicine Department. "Additionally, children between the ages of 2 and 5 were given anti-parasitic medication based on their weight."

The real-time results allowed the medical team to provide the family members with dietary recommendations as well as appropriate vitamin supplements and medications. Each patient also received an individual medical consultation with a member from the WRNMMC team, where they had the opportunity to address identified iron deficiencies or general issues and concerns.

During the three-day mission, 59 of the 178 children were diagnosed as anemic. Over 110 iron drops and 350 vitamins and medications were distributed at no cost to the patients.

To ensure patients who required additional care had available resources, the Honduran MOH was provided patient information to connect regional health care providers to families for follow-up and to track progress.

Bringing together the experience and knowledge from WRNMMC, USU, the Honduran MOH, and USAID allowed JTF-Bravo MEDEL to build their capacity and assist partner agencies in identifying the extent of needs for nutritional services. The assessment successfully provided data that will contribute to shaping missions and partnerships in the future, focused on identifying sustainable improvements for communities throughout the CENTAM region.