PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan, Republic of the Philippines -- Exercise Balikatan 2012, in its 28th iteration, inaugurated its first medical and veterinary outreach clinic at the Barangay Inagawan Sub on April 11 where Philippine and U.S. professionals delivered services for both people and animals.
The medical services offered went beyond general adult and pediatric checkups, by also including dental and vision care for all attendees. Well before the start of the outreach clinic, U.S. Army Civil Affairs soldiers were there in the community, coordinating between the local officials and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. military planners to make the clinics possible, said U.S. Army Capt. Kenneth "Josh" E. Hughes, civil affairs team leader, Civil Affairs Team-South, Combined Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force.
"We've had to coordinate with each barangay captain," said Hughes, whose normal unit of assignment is the U.S. Army Reserve unit, 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion, located in Buckeye, Arizona. "We had to coordinate with provincial vets [veterinarians], city vets, AFP vets, their docs [doctors], as well as the U.S. personnel."
The coordination is important to make these types of clinics successful. Rural areas of the Philippines are organized into village-like communities, called barangays. Each barangay has an elected leader, called a barangay captain that represents the needs and interests of their barangay. Rather than military rank, the title denotes the responsibility the leader bears for their community. Communication often is best through face-to-face relations, through barangay captains like Cynthia C. Castro from the Inagawan Sub Colony, Puerto Princesa City.
"We requested of the mayor and of Balikatan to develop a project, especially for one of the poor areas," said Castro. "Then the mayor suggested we would be one of the beneficiaries."
The barangay has a poverty rate over 80 percent and access to medical and veterinary care is difficult for many of the people living in the barangay, said Castro.
Just simply bringing the doctors to the barangay would not have produced the success at Inagawan Sub District. For successful medical outreach clinics, there must be logistical support and communications. The logistical support is for things like registration desks, medicine and medical equipment. Communications are critical for working with the leadership of the barangays and medical planners. Communications are key for raising awareness within the populace about the outreach clinics, said Hughes.
"We have skill sets to deal with people," said Hughes. "We bring skill sets from the real world as far as construction and our medical people coordinating events in the civilian world."
Planning and coordination started almost a year ago and involved partners from both the AFP and U.S. military, said Iza Tuliao, Veterinary Officer, Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command.
"They [civil affairs] interact with the civilians and the military," said Tuliao. "So we can help them with problems with their animals."
Working shoulder to shoulder, as the meaning of "balikatan" in Tagalog, BK12 has brought medical and veterinary practitioners together, involving Philippine and U.S. service members from all branches. This year's Exercise Balikatan invited a larger representation from the local Philippine community from both the public and private institutions. By working together, it allows the Philippine and U.S. military to increase their interoperability. Further, by inviting in partners from the local populace, this expands the aid available to those that might not otherwise have access to medical, dental, vision and veterinary care.
"It is very important that we help our population through dental outreach," said Philippine Lt. Col. Geraldo Gonzales, dental planning officer and dentist, Dental Service.
The dental services offered during the outreach clinics involved checkups and extractions. The Philippine dentists also practiced a technique of treating cavities that did not require drilling or anesthetic. The dental clinic is an effort to prevent extended tooth decay that could lead to abscess and eventually to sepsis as the infection affects the whole body and could possibly cause death.
The medical services offered covered general well-being check up for both adults and children. Once seen by a health care provider, the patients could then move to a field expedient pharmacy ran by Philippine and U.S. personnel.
"We've been able to provide a lot of good support to the local people and a lot of different service with the optometry, the dental, pediatric specialist and the adult medicine," said medical doctor and U.S. Army Capt. Jereme P. Long, general practitioner, CJCMOTF.
Long, who is an emergency medicine doctor at his home unit, 121st Combat Support Hospital, based in Yongsan, Seoul, Republic of Korea, said that the BK12 mission had exceeded his expectations. He said he was drawn to this project because of the humanitarian civic assistance nature of the mission, which was one of the factors that drew him to serve in the U.S. Army as well.
"The teamwork aspect of it all, being between all branches of service, as far as all branches of the American military and the Philippine military has been awesome," said Long.
The outreach clinic also offered a limited supply of free eyeglasses to the patients. While the veterinary outreach clinics provided care for animals as small as kittens and as large as water buffalos. The services offered from the veterinary clinics ranged from de-worming, vitamin injections and rabies vaccinations, a disease not uncommon in the animal population in this area of the Philippines.
Part of this BK12 is a new investment of knowledge within the barangays, where para-medical personnel are trained in topics such as breast-feeding, malaria prevention and diarrhea treatment. This is an active effort to expand the capacity in the barangays and better prepare the populace to care for themselves.
Despite the rains that fell throughout the day, the medical outreach treated over 700 patients and turned no one away before closing down for the day. The veterinary outreach treated over 400 animals.
BK12 officially started on April 16, 2012, although the HCA portion of the exercise started on March 12 with engineering projects, which consisted of building five schools near Puerto Princesa. The construction projects are now over 70 percent complete. The medical and veterinary outreach clinics will offer nine days of services to a variety of locations throughout the island of Palawan. There will also be five training sessions for rural health care workers, each session training more than 50 workers, in an effort to grow medical capacity within the local villages.