SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (NNS) -- Seven U.S. Navy medical personnel, deployed in support of Southern Partnership Station 2016 (SPS-16) partnered with the Honduran health workers of Operation Blessing to provide preventive medicine education and combat the Zika virus.
Southern Partnership Station 2016 (SPS-16) is a U.S. Southern Command-directed operation planned by Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (COMUSNAVSO)/Commander, U.S. Fourth Fleet (C4F) and carried out by deployed adaptive force packages (AFPs) in Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia.
AFPs are specialized military teams from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit 2, Navy Bureau of Medicine subordinate commands, the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard and civilian personnel that focus on locally identified needs such as port security, non-commissioned officer professional development, operational risk managements and medical readiness, among others.
This year, the medical AFP deployed to Honduras conducted a subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) with Honduran medical personnel, which centered on the Zika virus and preventative treatments to promote environmental health. AFPs deployed as part of SPS-16 will collaborate with partner nations in Central and South America, working hand-in-hand to build partner capabilities in the fields of law enforcement, junior officer development, medical readiness and construction.
"Our ultimate goal is to build a partnership by improving the health infrastructure here in Honduras," said Lt. Cmdr. Patrick McKenna, SPS-16's medical team leader. "As we went through the planning process our ideas evolved. Our initial focus was on women's health and water issues, but when Zika became a world issue, we shifted our focus."
SPS-16's medical team is equipped with entomologists specializing in mosquitoes, clinical nurses, preventive medical personnel, and a gynecologist.
"When it comes to the Zika [virus] and preventive medicine, it's not a one-stop deal," said Cmdr. Tony Silvetti, the team's gynecologist. "To change the environment, we have to change the mindset. We have to educate the kids, talk to the adults, and work with our medical subject matter experts."
Silvetti came to Honduras with a goal to educate as many people as possible about the various environmental diseases caused by sanitation issues. He didn't intend to only consult patients during the mission, but reach out to the youth population through child-friendly training.
To maximize the team's outreach, the Navy's personnel partnered with the nonprofit organization, Operation Blessing. Honduras National Director Hilda Romero leads Operation Blessing, and her organization provided a bridge between the U.S. service members and the people of Honduras.
"We're in the middle of this crisis, preventing Zika, and when the military asked the locals what they could do to help, we said that there was plenty to do," said Romero.
To achieve the goal of reducing Zika, Operation Blessing has began implementing biological pesticides to limit mosquito larva development. The organization gives Monte Verde villagers tortoises and tilapia that are trained to eat mosquito larva to place in their standing water for washing clothes. Without these animals, the mosquito breeding rate would exceed 40 percent, increasing the risk for mosquito-borne illnesses.
Romero said she believed the U.S. service members and Hondurans could learn from each other. She explained how the people of Monte Verde live a very different life, where water and medical attention isn't always readily accessible. Many of the practices used in Honduras are not conventional for many Americans.
"This has been just the first few days and I feel like we accomplished a lot," said McKenna. "As long as we strengthen this relationship, that in itself will be a success."
SPS-16 is an annual series of U.S. Navy deployments focused on subject matter expert exchanges with partner nation militaries and security forces in Central and South America and the Caribbean. U.S. military teams work with partner nation forces during naval-focused training exercises, military-to-military engagements and community relations projects in an effort to enhance partnerships with regional maritime activities and improve the operational readiness of participants.
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