By Kay Valle/Diálogo April 16, 2019 The Honduran Armed Forces began their annual civil-military program on February 3, 2019, with a series of medical brigades in the country’s north, central, and western regions. The objective is to provide medical assistance to more than a million Hondurans in need. In mid-March, almost 200,000 people in Francisco Morazán, Atlántida, Yoro, and Lempira departments benefited from the assistance that will last until year-end. Villagers from rural communities received medical as well as gynecological, dental, ophthalmological, and pediatric services, among others. “Health services are among the Honduran government’s top priorities in strategic planning,” Honduran Navy Captain José Domingo Meza, director of the Armed Forces’ Public Affairs, told Diálogo. “The Honduran Armed Forces contribute to achieving national objectives through medical brigades.” The Honduran Armed Forces’ Plans, Policy, Programs, and Civil Affairs Division is in charge of troop coordination, logistics, security, and transport, and provides medical brigades with military resources from each area to assist more patients. Volunteers, civilian doctors, and Secretary of Health personnel also join the humanitarian mission based on location. Health services and happiness Communities lacking health services look forward to the arrival of medical brigades. Adults, children, and the elderly form long lines beginning early in the morning to access the free services. Some make long journeys from remote communities. The Armed Forces’ brigades enable the population to access medical doctors and health professionals of various specialties . They provide free medicine, psychological assistance, and activities to strengthen spiritual and moral values—for children—and make donations of clothes, food, and school supplies. “The population also receives audiological care and legal services,” said Capt. Meza. “At the same time, the brigades conduct other activities, such as public building repairs, haircuts for men, beauty care for women, and educational talks.” In addition to providing medical assistance, Honduran service members entertain participants with games, music, and dances. Seniors and children receive preferential treatment, Capt. Meza said. “People are very grateful,” Honduran Army Second Lieutenant Katherine Melissa Antonio Carbajal, a general practitioner, told Diálogo. “They are always happy to see us, and are excited because of the attractions and games we provide for children.” Crucial contribution According to the Honduran National Institute of Statistics (INE, in Spanish), 68 percent of the population, or more than 6 million people, live in poverty, 44 percent of whom live in extreme poverty. INE also indicates that rural communities are the most affected, and vector-borne diseases, such as dengue, chikunguña and zika, are common. “Medical brigades also conduct fumigation campaigns, sanitation, and environmental cleanup,” said Capt. Meza. “It’s meant to encourage people to combat mosquitos that carry [these viral illnesses].” Second Lt. Antonio, who takes part in medical brigades since 2015, said that on many occasions she encountered people who never had a medical appointment. The brigades’ annual contribution to the population is crucial, the doctor added. “I particularly remember a brigade conducted in 2017 in Las Botijas, a very remote and hard-to-reach village in Francisco Morazán department,” said 2nd Lt. Antonio. “A 48-year old woman who had given birth to five children said she was seeing a gynecologist for the first time in her life.” Carried out since 2014, medical brigades provided humanitarian support to more than 5 million people throughout Honduras. The goal for 2019 is to deploy a total of 140 medical brigades. According to 2nd. Lt. Antonio, brigades not only help reach government goals, break the military barrier, and provide relief to the population, but are also happy events for participants. “Experiencing how grateful people are and seeing children having fun, despite their health problems, makes us forget that we are tired, and we just want to help these people. It brings not only professional growth, but also human growth. Your heart becomes full of compassion and joy when you help them,” the doctor said.