By Rich Bartell, U.S. Army Africa Public AffairsJuly 18, 2013
MUANDA, Democratic Republic of the Congo -- U.S. Army Africa-sponsored Soldiers partnered with health care professionals of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo during a weeklong Medical Readiness Training Exercise known as a MEDRETE 13-3, June 4-12.
Eight Soldiers traveled from as far away as Montana and Oklahoma to participate in the exercise. They are experts in fields as diverse as infectious disease, tropical medicine and logistics to public healthcare and clinical lab operations. U.S. Soldiers participating in the exercise represented both Active and Reserve components of the U.S. Army.
"This MEDRETE is based on infectious disease and public health clinical activities," Wally Murrell, a planner with USARAF's G-37 Exercise Division said. "Activities during the mission included direct patient care and academic activities which focused on malaria, tuberculosis and HIV and AIDS, public health and disease surveillance. These direct care activities were conducted with physicians at the hospital and were integrated into regular hospital based activities."
Murrell said more than 340 patients were screened for infectious diseases with 170 cases of malaria detected. Additionally, U.S. physicians assisted in several surgeries alongside their Congolese Army counterparts.
Murrell explained that Congolese-U.S. military cooperation includes a number of activities, such as logistics, military justice, and English language courses.
"Kitona was the best location for this mission because it is home of the Military Training Center and hospital for the Forces armées de la Republic De Congo known as FARDC," Murrell said.
On a typical day, U.S. Soldiers would work in the clinic, conduct classes on the communicable diseases, provide lab work and analysis and assist during surgeries.
FADRC Col. Edmond Amisi Okito, commander of the Kitona Military Hospital said partnership between his organization and the U.S. Army is helping fight disease in the Congo.
"We are grateful to our American partners for their help in our fight against HIV," Okito said. "During this exercise, we saw 343 patients with more than 380 infectious disease diagnoses and 150 other disease diagnoses."
Brig. Gen. Ychaligonza Ndura Jacques, deputy base commander reinforced Okito's praise of partnership.
"I wish for a lifelong cooperation between the U.S. Army and FARDC. Additionally, this has been a big honor for me and all the people of the health zone of Kitona," Jacques said.
Col. Emil Lesho, a native of White Haven, Penn., was the senior medical officer and adult infectious disease physician for the exercise. Lesho detailed a typical day during the exercise.
"From about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., we would see 20-30 patients, working side-by-side with our FARDC physician counterparts," Lesho said.
He said many of patients suffered from a variety of illnesses including tuberculosis, HIV, malaria and upper and lower bacterial and viral infections.
"Following lunch we would participate in an academic exchange where U.S.
and FARDC presented lectures. At night, we would assist in updating patient logs and journals in preparation for article in Military Medicine," Lesho said.
For Capt. Emily Hesse of Moses Lake, Wash., this was her first medical readiness training exercise.
Hesse presented information on cholera prevention and U.S. Army policies and practices for HIV during some of the academic exchanges.
"On the last day of academics I gave a lecture on U.S. military policies on HIV.
Col. Okito, the base hospital commander noted FARDC had the same requirement for their recruits. So it was interesting to note that we had similar approaches to a continuing health challenges," Hesse said.
The DRC is a French speaking country. As a result, several interpreters assisted Americans with healthcare and logistics translations.
"We worked with the U.S. embassy for interpreter support for the exercise. Six interpreters met the team in Kitona and worked side-by-side with our doctors. Translation services are always a challenge when working in an African francophone country," Murrell said.
Only a week-long exercise, the U.S. team made lasting impressions on some of the local residents.
Col. Emily Russell of Red Lodge, Mont., is a reservist and a public health nurse. Russell made a distinct impression on one patient.
"I rotated through maternity ward that day to work with obstetrics nurses. I found out that nurses are the ones that deliver babies," Russell said.
During her orientation to the ward, an expectant mother indicated she was ready to deliver.
"We escorted her to the delivery room where she chanted something in French and within 30 minutes delivered a healthy baby girl. The only medication they gave the mom was a shot to prevent post partum hemorrhage. It was amazing to see how the circle of life happens naturally. Afterwards she walks back to maternity ward and everyone was saying Emily, Emily, Emily! So she named the baby after me," Russell said.
Murrell summed up the purpose of the exercise.
"The goal of this mission is to reinforce the capabilities of Congolese medical professionals, strengthen the relationship between Congolese and U.S. professionals, as well as providing training for U.S. personnel," Murrell said.