Medical personnel from the U.S. Army and Kenya Defence Forces concluded a two-day medical civic action program in Samburu County, Kenya, on Feb. 19, 2023, as part of humanitarian assistance efforts during exercise Justified Accord 2023.
JA23’s MEDCAP is the latest in a series of combined force medical outreaches between the two countries.
“This is really a culmination of all the previous engagements, to improve upon them and continue to broaden and strengthen the relationships already forged,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rhonda Dyer, public health nurse, 353rd Civil Affairs Command, U.S. Army Reserve. “The relationships already existed with individual nations, but this exercise has brought all the partners together.”
This MEDCAP iteration occurred during JA23, U.S. Africa Command’s largest military exercise in East Africa. U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa leads the exercise, which features nearly 1,000 participants from 20 nations representing four continents. JA23’s purpose is to increase partner readiness for regional security, crisis response and humanitarian assistance.
Day one at Archer's Post Sub-County Hospital brought over 300 people, mostly with gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal issues, as well as some snake bites with infections.
“We were able to treat all of those,” said Dyer. “But probably the highlight of that day was when a pregnant patient visited the clinic and the staff was able to assist with the baby’s delivery within minutes of her arrival.”
Most patients who visited the clinic brought multiple children with them, some of whom tagged along with military camera crews and assisted with taking photos while family members received medical treatment.
“The kids were very eager to learn how to use a camera,” said U.S. Army Cpl. Genesis Miranda, a combat photographer with the 55th Signal Company, attached to SETAF-AF. “It was very rewarding to have them around and teach them a couple things.”
The second day of the MEDCAP took place at Larisoro Dispensary in Kalama, where KDF and U.S. Army medics treated over 450 patients. The dispensary serves as a maternity ward and the combined team provided free medical services such as blood pressure and diabetes screenings, laboratory tests as well as prescriptions against various diseases.
“The majority were pediatric patients with an average age around 8-9 years old,” said Dyer. “Many had upper respiratory issues, most likely due to dust in the air. An interesting case was a gentleman who had an insect stuck in his ear for the last three months. We were able to extract that successfully.”
Both days were supported by U.S. civil affairs personnel from Civil Affairs-East Africa, SETAF-AF.
“They were the ones who handled the administrative legwork behind the clinical event,” said Dyer. “Basically we were able to collaborate between civil affairs, as well as medics from both countries, and together, the team was able to impact a larger number of people.”
Civil affairs personnel organized and supported both MEDCAP days Feb. 18-19, working with Kenyan counterparts to ensure successful completion.
“We conduct these engagements regularly throughout Africa,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Matthew Sobecki, civil affairs team leader, Civil Affairs Team 5011, 1st Forward Detachment, 450th Civil Affairs Battalion. “We try to focus on providing services that aren’t readily available in those areas.”
Sobecki indicated this particular MEDCAP was unique in that observers from the Uganda People’s Defence Force also participated.
“This is a great trend, to have multiple partner forces together with us,” said Sobecki. “JA23 and these MEDCAPs are all about building and strengthening partnerships.”
The benefits of the two-day clinic stretched beyond simply the patients who received much needed medical care.
“One of the major goals of this MEDCAP is the knowledge exchange that takes place,” saidU.S. Army Staff Sgt. Beau Fisher, a combat medic with Task Force Wolf Hound, 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 69th Infantry Division, New York National Guard. “We learn from our partners on a regular basis.”
Fisher shared an example from the second day of the MEDCAP, at Larisoro Dispensary’s maternity ward, when an expectant mother visited the clinic.
“The medical professionals were very skilled and one even showed us how to find a fetal heartbeat with his hands,” he said. “In the U.S., we’re accustomed to using ultrasound. But this is valuable training in case a piece of equipment is unavailable or breaks down.”
The immediate benefits of the MEDCAP are apparent, but the long term benefits should not be overlooked.
“It made an immediate positive impact on the community,” said Dyer. “The longer term impact can be found in those patients with cataracts or high blood pressure. We saw them initially and gave referrals for more advanced eye or cardiac care. Their continued appointments with local Kenyan specialists will greatly benefit them.”
Another example Dyer shared was a gentleman with a one-month-old gunshot wound. He never had his stitches removed and the area was infected. The combined team gave him antibiotics, redressed the wound and put him on a regimen to return to the hospital on a regular basis so the wound can continue to be redressed, preventing further infection.
While many from the surrounding community visited each day, some patients traveled from long distances to receive medical care.
“One of the things I wish we could do in the future is a second day at the same clinic,” shared Dyer. “Just our presence alone at the clinic would likely lead to word-of-mouth advertising of our capabilities. Especially since many had never seen a medical provider and, in some cases, they walked four hours to arrive at the clinic.”
Due to this iteration and previous engagements, Kenyan counterparts agreed the MEDCAPs should be an ongoing effort.
Aloise Lekupe, Kenyan officer-in-charge of the Larisoro Dispensary, said, “Personally, I prefer that these joint medical programs would be more frequent. Most of the people in this area live below the poverty level. So, when they need medical services, they just stay home. They use what little money they earn just to put food on the table. Medical services are a luxury for them.”
The maternity ward was constructed by the KDF, but Lekupe indicated additional services need to be located in other geographical areas, especially since many expectant mothers travel such a long distance for this medical care.
“Kenya and the U.S. have been friends for a very long time, said Lekupe. “Many programs are presented jointly and Kenya very much appreciates this partnership.”