American Airman brings medical expertise to Belize

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alex Echols
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The Central American nation of Belize lacks a developed medical system. citizens in rural areas receive infrequent and insufficient medical care, especially in villages lacking running water and electricity. One Tyndall Airman journeyed there to make a difference.

Staff Sgt. Flavio Porto, 325th Medical Operations Squadron ambulance service technician, traveled to Belize with the International Health Specialists in support of their humanitarian mission.

The mission, May 12 -26, focused on educating Belizean medical providers and improving their medical care system.

"The medical focus of our mission was maternal and child health, one of the Belizean Ministry of Health's highest national priorities," said Maj. Brian Neese, 12th Air Force/Air Forces Southern IHS Division, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., in the after action report. "We looked specifically at the prenatal and obstetric care provided by the government healthcare system with providers from the highest levels of the Ministry of Health, to the regional inpatient hospitals, all the way to the geographically isolated rural health outposts."

The team consisted of 12 individuals with various medical backgrounds. Porto put his Air Force medical training and foreign language skills to work communicating and helping as much as possible. English is the official language of Belize, but the majority of the population speaks Spanish or Belizean Creole.

"We assessed and tried to improve their health care system as well as learned from them to improve our own system," Porto said.

During the assessment, Porto visited a very undersized clinic completely filled with patients, which was run by a single physician.

Providers often send patients with X-ray and imaging needs as well as test samples to Mexico because they lack the equipment to do it in-country. When the results return, the physicians do not always have the capabilities to fully treat the patient.

Even with these difficulties, Belizean doctors still manage to provide care for patients.

"They do a lot with very little resources, and it's amazing," Porto said. "I have met some great providers and great technicians working with nothing and treating people."

After the initial assessment, the team participated in a two-day maternal and child health course and traveled to rural areas providing care for and immunizing locals.

"Here it is very common to give a shot to somebody, like a vaccine," Porto said. "For them, it is not every day they get immunized for something. It is very rewarding and uplifting to see that they are grateful for us to be there."

Porto said he was extremely proud and grateful to be selected to be a part of the team and the mission to Belize.

"This is exactly what I wanted to do since I joined the military, to use my language skills and go to other countries to help," Porto said. "I understand that not everybody in the military speaks another language, and because I do, I think it is my duty to use it for the Air Force. When I was there, it was exactly like a professional dream coming true to actually go to another country and help people. I am so grateful and fortunate to have helped the people there."

This trip was the initial part of long term initiative to help improve Belize's medical system as a whole. The IHS is already planning a follow-up trip for next year, according to Porto.

The IHS program is in need of officers and enlisted members with medical and language skills to assist in these types of missions. People interested in the program can find more information here.