By Sgt. 1st Class Paul MeekerJune 20, 2011
GONAIVES, Haiti, June 21, 2011 -- The last Task Force Bon Voizen - New Horizons Haiti 2011 medical readiness training exercise in Desdunes, Haiti, illustrates the critical importance of tapping into the resources, structures and expertise already present in Haiti.
While building internal capacity was not an express goal of the four 10-day task force medical readiness training exercises, or MEDRETEs, which ran from late April to late June, it was certainly an ancillary one, and one that task force civil affairs officer, U.S. Marine Corps Reservist Capt. Jason Popowski believes was key, not only to the success of this Task Force Bon Voizen mission, but to future U.S. humanitarian missions to Haiti as well.
“MEDRETEs establish the perfect opportunity for the local populace, local and regional Haitian health professionals and the humanitarian aid partners like IGOs and NGOs [international governmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations] to work cohesively together for a common goal and establish relationships that will endure long after the task force re-deploys,” said Popowski, civil affairs officer from the 3rd Civil Affairs Group. “This relationship, if kindled properly, will naturally grow leading to sustained development.”
Three important relationships on display June 17, 2011, at the Desdunes operation were cultivated by task force civil affairs officers with local Haitian agencies and international relief organizations. The first key partnership evident at Desdunes linked area nursing students to the MEDRETE operation.
The task force facilitated two consecutive five-day internships to 10 nursing students each that spanned the duration of the Desdunes mission, June 13 - 22. The interns began their day listening to a presentation by a recognized expert in cholera identification, treatment and prevention, before rotating in and out of the various medical and dental stations where American, Canadian and Colombian medical staff were treating patients.
Dr. Tschiande Alerte, a medical expert on cholera from the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations affiliate, discussed cholera prevention, identification and treatment with the interns. He stressed the importance of early detection, rapid response and correct assessment of a cholera victim’s level of dehydration.
Treatment options varied according to a patient’s level of dehydration, Alerte said, so knowing how to quickly and accurately diagnose was a critical skill for the students to learn.
According to U.S. Army Reserve civil affairs officer 1st Lt. Gregoire Metellus, IOM provided support in another manner that was less evident, but no less important. They supplied more than 1,000 gallons of potable water for the task force and Haitian clinicians to use for critical life support, and the cleaning of medical equipment.
Water wasn’t just a critical need inside the Desdunes clinic, it was essential outside the clinic where an ever-shifting line of more than a thousand citizens waited each day of the 10-day MEDRETE to receive free medical evaluation and treatment from the task force medical and dental staff.
Operation Blessing Haiti Relief, the local arm of Operation Blessing International, based in Virginia Beach, Va., parked a 6,000 gallon tanker of drinking water outside the clinic gates each day during three of the medical training exercises. While the focus of the free water was to serve the citizens waiting in line, there was no restriction to its use so locals not pursuing medical services could tap the clean drinking water and fill small containers to bring home.
“Some people literally get in line before the sun comes up to get seen by our medical staff. Providing water to the people waiting in line is in keeping with our humanitarian effort in Haiti. We were fortunate to be able to work with Operation Blessing in fulfilling that need, not only for those waiting in line but for the greater community,” said Metellus, of the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion.
“Providing clean water for the community in Haiti can be directly attributed to saving lives,” he added.
The two express missions of Task Force Bon Voizen - free medical/dental services and real-world humanitarian relief training for U.S., Canadian and Colombian military members - were accomplished in Desdunes June 17, as more than 1,500 patients were evaluated and treated that day.
What will remain for U.S. efforts, when the Task Force Bon Voizen MEDRETE mission ends, is the ancillary, and perhaps overarching mission - the continued nurturing of relationships and the building of capacity - so that Haitians are supporting Haitians, regardless of the assistance they receive from others.
Task Force Bon Voizen, New Horizons Haiti 2011, is a Commander, U.S. Southern Command sponsored, U.S. Army South conducted, joint foreign military interaction/humanitarian exercise under the command of the Louisiana National Guard. Task Force Bon Voizen is deploying U.S. military engineers and medical professionals to Haiti for training and to provide humanitarian services.
Task Force Bon Voizen will build a school, two medical clinics and one latrine facility, as well as staff three medical clinics and one dental clinic between April 28 and June 25, in the Artibonite Department.
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