Providing Medical and Veterinary Care in Senegal

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By U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Christiana Porter

FLINTLOCK 10 Public Affairs, U.S. Africa Command

Toubab is what the locals call us. It’s a term used for those other than Senegalese until they know you, then by your name. When the Senegalese said it, especially the children, it was almost like a term of endearment, they were happy to see us. They want to shake your hand and say thank you. No matter what language they speak, their gratefulness is communicated.

I don’t know that one could even imagine the impact a Medical Civil Action Program (MEDCAP)/Veterinarian Civil Action Program (VETCAP) can have on small underdeveloped communities in Africa, unless you are physically there. I have had the humbling experience of not only observing the MEDCAP in action but also taking an active roll in assisting some of the doctors. From assisting the dentists by calming a little girl preparing for her tooth to be pulled, to being part of the VETCAP and sticking needles of vaccine into the necks of cows, I had an experience of a lifetime.

Spending time with this particular team conducting a MEDCAP/VETCAP on the Senegal-Mauritania border, gave me a whole new appreciation for those in the medical field. The selflessness of the individuals on these teams, dedicating their time to travel halfway across the world, to remote destinations with the intent to assist small communities in administering health care, is incomparable. This MEDCAP and others like it are in direct support of Africa Command’s overall Joint Special Operations Task Force-Tran Sahara (JSOTF-TS) mission of providing security and stability to countries in Africa while reducing local support to terrorist activities. The programs bring together U.S. military doctors, partner nation and host nation doctors, Red Cross and Peace Corps volunteers in a concerted effort to bring medicine to needing communities in Africa.

This particular team was composed of United States military doctors, dentists, medics, veterinarians, Dutch doctors and communication specialists. Additionally there was an in country team led by Gene, including civil affairs personnel, Matt, Kirk, Chris, and Senegalese operations coordinator/interpreter, Baidy who managed the logistics, planning, and organization of the overall effort. These men were crucial in the success of the MEDCAP.

The team traveled first 348 KM northeast to the first MEDCAP site in Rosso, Senegal, then follow on 105 km to Taredji for the second MEDCAP, both locations on the Senegal-Mauritania border. Along the way we were joined by 13 translators from the University of Dakar, some English majors and some English teachers. Additionally there were a few medical students, also from the University of Dakar that came along to assist the U.S. doctors. These interpreters and students were just as enthusiastic and eager to be a part of the MEDCAP, as the MEDCAP team themselves. The MEDCAP teammates have communicated on many occasions how vital the interpreters were and how wonderful they were to work with. One interpreter, Yebhe, who is an English student at the University in Dakar, Senegal, said it was her third MEDCAP and she really enjoyed the work and is humbled by what the MEDCAP teams do to assist “her people” in the desolate villages of Senegal.

For each MEDCAP location tents are set up for triage, public health classes, and a waiting area to see a doctor. There is a place for the pharmacy and rooms used for dental and optometry. Approximately 25 patients at a time are led into the medical facility, now MEDCAP site, first stopping off at the public health tent. There Simeon, Public Health nurse, and Elena, prevention medicine, along with an interpreter and two peace corps volunteers, gave instruction on preventing malaria and AIDS and then providing deworming medication to children under six. Next the patients moved all together to the triage tent where interpreters Yehbe, Sadibou, and Sane, under the guidance and supervision of teamlead and medic, Charles Martin, determine ailment and what type of doctor they see based on what the patient is complaining of. The patient either goes to see the dentist, Tad and Lhea, the eye doctor, Mark or general Carl, Rob, and Dutch MDs, Emiel and Maurice. The thirteen interpreters were spread throughout the camp assisting the MEDCAP team in assessing each individual ailment.

Separately, each location had a VETCAP set up which administered vaccinations for cows, donkeys, horses, and goats, as well as prepared cows for artificial insemination.

On the first day of the MEDCAP in Rosso I spent half the day with the veterinarians, conducting a VETCAP. Rick, military veterinarian, lead the team of medics out there and was assisted by two Senegalese vet students. The vets spend all day in the baking sun with cows, horses, and goats, conducting vaccinations. I was given the opportunity to vaccinate ten cows by aggressively sticking a thick, long needle into the neck of the feisty animals. I was amazed at just how much effort it takes for the few I did and the vets spent eight hours vaccinating a total of 459 cows, 360 sheeps, and 113 goats, just in the first day.

The MEDCAP team did everything they could to see as many people as possible, nearly exceeding 1000 people over the course of five days and two locations.

3 May 2010

The MEDCAP team had a day before the MEDCAP in Taredji to go through some training and familiarization with the local hospital. All the medical facilities in this area depend on the hospital in Taredji. Difficult cases come to this hospital. One doctor and one nurse for 11983 patients. After the presentation the doctor asked the team what each person did and what they might need to do their jobs for the next three days. The medical staff in Taredji was so eager to assist the MEDCAP team as they were so humbled by our efforts in their community.

Not only did the process run through smoother, there were also a lot more local doctor assistance–not only at the MEDCAP site but also at the VETCAP site. This is what Flintlock was designed to do, support the local nationals, not do it for them.

The people at this site seemed, to the doctors, a lot more sick than at the last site.

It seemed quite a bit hotter today, but still was a successful day.

5 May 2010

I have spent the last nine days with this MEDCAP team and thought I had everything I needed for my article until today. We were briefed that there would be no more VETCAP due to the lack of funds and what a tragedy that would be to the community in which the VETCAP was occurring. Kirk, Team SGT, suggested we take up donations so that we can get some vial of vaccines to vaccinate a few more cows. Rick, head Vet, explained how overwhelmingly grateful the villagers were for our assistance and day after day remind the Vets what a blessing it is to have them in their village.

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