Military medical professionals team-up, provide care to 1,800 in remote Djibouti

OBOCK, Djibouti -- U.S. Army Capt. Vincent Fry performs a wellness check on a young boy from Obock, Djibouti, during a recent Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. Fry and other medical experts attached to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa treated more than 1,800 hundred patients for a variety of ailments during the two-day MEDCAP, which relied on combined efforts from the Djiboutian Health Ministry, local care providers, and the skills of 20 soldiers assigned to the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti -- U.S. Army Capt. Vincent Fry performs a wellness check on a young boy from Obock, Djibouti, during a recent Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. Fry and other medical experts attached to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa treated more than 1,800 hundred patients for a variety of ailments during the two-day MEDCAP, which relied on combined efforts from the Djiboutian Health Ministry, local care providers, and the skills of 20 soldiers assigned to the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

Staff Sergeant Leah Potter and Captain Robert Spriggel treat a dental patient May 5, 2011, during a Medical Capacity Program mission in Obock, Djibouti. Dentists attached to Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa cared for Obock citizens with periodontal diseases. The MEDCAP also featured optometric and preventative care performed by 20 service members attached to CJTF-HOA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

Staff Sergeant Leah Potter and Captain Robert Spriggel treat a dental patient May 5, 2011, during a Medical Capacity Program mission in Obock, Djibouti. Dentists attached to Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa cared for Obock citizens with periodontal diseases. The MEDCAP also featured optometric and preventative care performed by 20 service members attached to CJTF-HOA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Air Force Capt. Alex Kwon performs an eye examination on a patient in Obock, Djibouti, during a Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) optometrists performed vision checks and provided prescription glasses to patients during the two-day event. The success of this MECAP relied heavily on teamwork from the Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel, local care providers and 20 soldiers assigned to the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion, currently attached to CJTF. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Air Force Capt. Alex Kwon performs an eye examination on a patient in Obock, Djibouti, during a Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) optometrists performed vision checks and provided prescription glasses to patients during the two-day event. The success of this MECAP relied heavily on teamwork from the Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel, local care providers and 20 soldiers assigned to the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion, currently attached to CJTF. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Army Sgt. Noel Medina escorts a patient who received new prescription eyeglasses during a recent Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. Optometrists attached to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) performed vision wellness checks and provided prescription glasses to patients requiring eyesight correction. The MECAP also hosted dental and preventative care, and involved Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel, local care providers and 20 members of the JTF-HOA’s 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Army Sgt. Noel Medina escorts a patient who received new prescription eyeglasses during a recent Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. Optometrists attached to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) performed vision wellness checks and provided prescription glasses to patients requiring eyesight correction. The MECAP also hosted dental and preventative care, and involved Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel, local care providers and 20 members of the JTF-HOA’s 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Martha Goff uses a slit lamp on a patient in Obock, Djibouti to look for retinal problems during a Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. The slit lamp consists of a high-intensity light source optometrists use to examine the human eye. Optometrists attached to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) performed vision checks and provided prescription glasses to patients requiring eyesight correction. The MECAP involved Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel, local care providers and other CJTF-HOA medical experts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Martha Goff uses a slit lamp on a patient in Obock, Djibouti to look for retinal problems during a Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. The slit lamp consists of a high-intensity light source optometrists use to examine the human eye. Optometrists attached to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) performed vision checks and provided prescription glasses to patients requiring eyesight correction. The MECAP involved Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel, local care providers and other CJTF-HOA medical experts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Air Force Capt. Alex Kwon performs an eye examination on a patient in Obock, Djibouti during a Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission May 5. Optometrists performed vision checks and provided prescription glasses to patients requiring eyesight correction. Kwon and other MECAP members teamed with the Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel to provide medical care for more than 1,800 patients during the two-day event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Air Force Capt. Alex Kwon performs an eye examination on a patient in Obock, Djibouti during a Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission May 5. Optometrists performed vision checks and provided prescription glasses to patients requiring eyesight correction. Kwon and other MECAP members teamed with the Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel to provide medical care for more than 1,800 patients during the two-day event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Leah Potter (left) and U.S. Air Force Capt. Robert Spriggel provide dental treatment for a patient in Obock, Djibouti, during a  Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. Dentists performed wellness checks and treated patients needing care for periodontal diseases and other conditions. The MECAP also hosted optometric and preventative care, and involved Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel, local care providers and 20 soldiers assigned to the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion which is attached to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti - U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Leah Potter (left) and U.S. Air Force Capt. Robert Spriggel provide dental treatment for a patient in Obock, Djibouti, during a Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) mission, May 5. Dentists performed wellness checks and treated patients needing care for periodontal diseases and other conditions. The MECAP also hosted optometric and preventative care, and involved Djiboutian Health Ministry personnel, local care providers and 20 soldiers assigned to the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion which is attached to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

OBOCK, Djibouti -- The town of Obock recently played host to an team of U.S. and local dental, optometry, and wellness professionals attached to Camp Lemonnier who combined their skills to provide treatment for Afar tribesmen residing in the Obock Prefecture.

This team was part of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) Medical Capacity Program (MEDCAP) and their first order of business was to direct Obock patients to the right place at the right time.

"We set-up an initial triage station for a first look and then it was a matter of sending them to the right specialists," said U.S. Army Maj. Brian Wehrer, senior medical officer for the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion.

According to U.S. Army Capt. Jose Rivera, MEDCAP mission commander, services provided also included acute care treatment and preventative care measures. "When people walked in, we quickly determined what their needs were so we could either address immediate issues, or help them prevent future problems," said Rivera.

The team offered several type of medical care not normally available to the tribesmen.

"The U.S. Soldiers are helping the Ministry of Health and the local clinic make this all possible, said Dr. Saber Ali Ahmed, Obock Clinic chief of medicine. "There are about 18,000 people in the region and we had about 1,800 show-up for treatment, so this is something the people are eager about."

According to Ahmed, most of the patients were treated for general health issues and preventative care. "Many of these people cannot afford the long and expensive trip to Djibouti City so this event is very beneficial to them, he explained. "The people of Obock are very appreciative and hope to do something like this again in the future."

The critical need for services in Obock Prefecture stems from its remote and isolated location, said local official Ali Hamid Hassan, Obock Regional Council President. "It is not always practical or affordable for people to make the long and expensive trip to Djibouti City for this kind of care. So, the people are very appreciative of these teams assembling here today," he said.

One immediate impact of the mission was correcting patient's vision, said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Peter Clark, optometry technician. "I pre-screen patients by performing a preliminary examination to help determine where the optometrist should start in terms of the vision correction the patient will likely need," said Clark. "We're only here a couple days so we want to make the best use of our time."

The wellness clinic team provided basic medical assessments to the patients including blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory measurement, and basic evaluation of focused medical complaints, said U.S. Navy Lt. Travis Harrell, team physician. "We then determine what we can do for them and hopefully help with problems through prescription medication and other treatment," he said.

U.S. Army Capt. and physician Vincent Fry said, "The conditions are a little tough here compared to what we might be used to, but it's not effecting the quality of care and the local providers are right here making sure we have what we need."

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Leah Potter explained that dental work isn't something people necessarily look forward to, but is critical part of overall health and well-being. "Despite the less-than-enjoyable experience of sitting in the dentist's chair, the results are always appreciated and we get many hugs and thanks," said Potter, adding that the dental teams saw about 50 people each day during the two-day mission.

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Fulton said that the unexpected arrival of Afar interpreters was extremely helpful. "Aside from simply helping us communicate specific instructions, they helped us really connect and offer comfort," he said. "Our interpreters helped explain things and even pitched in with some help with basic procedures and other kinds of assistance."

This mission was a great success and a model of how to reach those in need, according to Ambassador Swan. "What we saw here today is the perfect example of how great things can happen when so many people are all willing to plan and work closely together."

U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti James Swan praised the efforts of many behind-the-scenes workers who said made the medical professionals' jobs easier. "Other key players included local police, the Red Crescent and many volunteers, including the Djiboutian military who delivered supplies and water," he said.