STUTTGART-VAIHINGEN, Germany — A withdrawn elderly man entered the makeshift optometry clinic tent in Rwanda hunched over nearly crawling so he could see the ground and avoid any obstacles on his way to the exam chair. But he walked out standing tall with a grin from ear to ear.
"It was like he was a different person," said Air Force Capt. Christie Barton, an optometrist with the 435th Aeromedical Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Barton recalled the strong pair of spectacles weren't attractive and barely fit, but "his simple smile said it all."
Barton, who was part of a five-member medical team that saw 1,469 patients in Rwanda and Botswana from Dec. 3-17, to this day still isn't sure if the patients or the providers gain more from the experience.
The Medical Civil Assistance Program, or MEDCAP, is one of several events that are a part of the U.S. European Command Security Cooperation Division's Humanitarian and Civic Assistance Program. MEDCAPs are designed to provide medical and dental outreach to local civilian populations within the command's 92-nation area of operation.
The Humanitarian and Civic Assistance Program provides the funding which allows the military medical teams to serve the local community by offering free basic medical and dental care for villagers. U.S. Embassy personnel select the locations and inform the villagers of the event. By interacting with foreign military forces and exposing local civilian populations to positive contacts with U.S. military personnel, the United States hopes to strengthen counter-terrorism capabilities. Winning the 'hearts and minds' of the locals with these MEDCAPs is part of European Command's ongoing Theater Security Cooperation strategy.
The goal of this MEDCAP was to familiarize the Rwanda and Botswana militaries with the programs, procedures and concepts for managing U.S. military preventive medical practices and deployed medical operations, said Air Force Lt. Col. Vince Gill from the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Surgeon General's Office who served as the team lead.
The USAFE team conducted medical exchange seminars at the Kanombe military hospital in Kigali, Rwanda, inside a tent at the Returnee Camp on the Tanzanian border, and at the Sir Seretse Khama Barracks in Gaborone, Botswana. The dental topics included expeditionary dentistry, soft tissue injuries, diseases of the mouth, oral hygiene and pediatric dentistry while optometry topics focused on expeditionary optometry, causes of blindness and diseases of the eye. Additional seminars discussed medical operations planning, infection control, field sanitation and hygiene, triage, patient evacuation and Self Aid and Buddy Care.
"The next step is conducting interoperability clinics with the host nation medical personnel to demonstrate implementation of the topics covered during the seminars," Gill said. The dental services are primarily limited to exams, extractions, simple surgical procedures, treatment for oral infections and oral hygiene education while optometry services include exams, treatment for infections and eyeglasses, if required.
"The missions were very productive and valuable for us," Gill said. "We saw many cases of disease typically only seen in books."