AFRICA: U.S. Army Medicos Help in the Congo (Updated)
Join U.S.-DROC Medical Exercise
When one thinks of the challenges a U.S. Army delegation of medical personnel – doctors, dentists, technicians – would face in the strife-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – tropical diseases, bad roads, crocodile-infested rivers and warring guerilla armies come to mind.
The two-week humanitarian exercise (Sept. 6-18) in which about 100 U.S. personnel and 295 Congolese participated, was largely confined to DRC’s capital city, Kinshasa, a metropolis of more than 10 million people, says Hogg, who is based in Vicenza, Italy.
Kinshasa is “just a very dense, populated area. And just getting around from Point A to Point B, you’ve got to plan accordingly,” Hogg told a bloggers roundtable via phone hookup from Africa.
During MEDFLAG 10, the U.S and Congolese medical personnel worked on a week of joint classes where soldiers on both sides received classes on triage, emergency treatment and evacuation procedures. They also provided medical and dental treatment to over 1,700 people in Kinshasa, Hogg said.
There was also a situational training exercise where the Congolese emergency medical team responded to a “bus accident,” performing triage and treating participants from the U.S. units who played the parts of accident victims.
One aspect of the exercise that caught Hogg’s attention was the DRC armed forces’ medical system which is designed to operate in austere environments without electricity. “It’s manual in nature, and that’s almost 180 degrees off from what we have in some of our [military operations] medical systems.”
Most U.S. military medical operations are based on the notion that “you got to have the juice. You got to have the [electrical generation], Hogg said. He noted, however, that they are also capable of working in what he called “a degraded [non-electrical] mode.”
The DRC’s basic system is just the opposite of the U.S. “The primary system here is what we would consider degraded mode. And then, of course, they also have those systems that require a power source of some type,” said Hogg, adding: “what they have here works for their army.”
But the primary purpose of the exercise was not just to train U.S. personnel to work in the Congo’s environment, he said, but to test and improve the preparedness of the Congolese forces. Speaking to the U.S. bloggers through an interpreter, Col. Gilbert Kabanda, surgeon general of the Congolese armed forces, said his country’s constitution requires that “the military should be prepared in assisting stabilization and development throughout the country in times of peace.”
While developing a rapid reaction force as part of DRC’s military reforms “ we also felt we needed a rapid-reaction medical force that could support this,” Kabanda said, adding: “This is not a one-time thing; it’s a long-range goal and a long-range development.”
Until 1997, the DRC was known as Zaire. One of Africa’s largest countries in area (No. 2 after Algeria) and population (No. 4 after Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt), it was a Belgian colony from 1908 to 1960 when it gained its independence.