Sahara Desert Yields Healing Hands

MEDFLAG 2003 personnel provide medical, dental care to Moroccan village

Some say that if you look long enough out over the dry, arid terrain of the Sahara Desert, you will eventually see a mirage - a sometimes beautiful sight of one's own imagination.

In the early morning hours of 9 September, the people of Tadigouste, Morocco, thought they might have seen a mirage, but in reality it was more than 20 trucks and buses filled with medical supplies and more than 100 U.S. military medical professionals descending upon a desert oasis 50 miles west of Er Rachidia, Morocco, to provide care to a willing village. It was on this day that the real "bread and butter" of MEDFLAG 2003 officially began.

The official name of phase three of this part of MEDFLAG is "MED/DENCAPS," or Medical and Dental Civil Assistance Programs. It is one of three phases performed during this year's MEDFLAG. The joint service exercise/humanitarian mission is held every year in Africa, with this year being in the country of Morocco. This is the 18th MEDFLAG.

More than 600 patients were seen on the first of seven MED/DENCAPs. Medical and dental care was provided in a wide range of services including general practice, pediatrics, internal medicine, optometry, obstetrics and gynecology and dermatology.

"These people were treated for a wide range of ailments and conditions," said LCDR Thomas Craig, an emergency room physician and triage doctor at the first MEDCAP. "We're here to provide solid medical and dental care to people who may have never even seen a doctor."

After patients were initially triaged to determine their medical and/or dental problems, they were then sent to a pre-staged area for treatment. The age of the patients ranged from babies to the elderly.

"We've seen it all here today," said CDR Robert Amaya, a nurse practitioner working in Primary Care. "One minute I was seeing a young boy with a foot ailment, and the next I was taking care of an elderly man with an arm problem."

More than 2.5M dollars worth of medicines and supplies will be used during MEDFLAG 2003.

And if there's any left over, it all stays with local Moroccan hospitals and doctors.

"We are very grateful that American military doctors and nurses could come to our country to assist us in providing medical and dental care to my people," said Khalid Chekah Chakh, a Moroccan dentist. "Working together, we've been able to learn from each other and have made lasting friendships."

"This is truly humanitarianism at its best," said CDR Kurt Hummeldorf, a Navy oral surgeon. "To be able to come to a country and work along side our Moroccan counterparts providing much needed medical and dental care, it truly doesn't get any better than this."

And for the beautiful and friendly people of Tadighouste, Morocco, what they thought was a mirage, turned into the reality of caring American hands.

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