Making a Difference in Ethiopia

By Cindy Dorfner

A young lady gets weighed during a recent Medical Civic Action Program, held by the 96th Civil Affairs team deployed to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Gode, Ethiopia.

Photo by Kristine Smedley / CJTF-HOA Photo

GODE, Ethiopia (CJTF-HOA) — They arrived in small numbers, but their impact was huge. In just nine days, 23 members of the 96th Civil Affairs team made a difference to nearly 3,000 people and the owners of more than 15,000 animals in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

A crucial component of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, the 96th CA team took part in HOA’s mission of "winning the hearts and minds" through medical and veterinary treatment in Gode and other nearby villages.

CJTF-HOA is made up of U.S. joint forces, the U.S. Department of State and more than two dozen coalition forces from around the globe. The group conducts operations and training to assist host nations establish a secure environment and enable regional stability.

The idea for the medical civic action program, or MEDCAP, was to head back to Gode, a village the team visited in November. They hoped to help as many people as possible during the same visit a planned veterinary civic action program, or VETCAP, was scheduled.

The trip, which offered de-wormer and vitamins to each animal and person seen, as well as medication specific to the circumstance, was a "complete success," said Master Sgt. John Abbe, an Army reservist attached to the 96th CA team from the 404th Civil Affairs Batallion at Fort Dix, N.J.

"We made a difference in a lot of lives," Sergeant Abbe said.

One person who noticed a difference was a teenager from a nearby village who’d hurt himself. When he arrived, he had a piece of wood in his foot that had been there for two years.

Capt. Karin Landmann and Staff Sgt. Marion Cavanaugh, both Army reservists from the 404th, performed a procedure to remove the wood. The boy was overjoyed to finally have the object removed. Eventually the foot could have become so infected, the boy might have lost his leg, Captain Landmann said.

"A lot of times, we see what was a simple cut that has turned into a huge, horrible infection," said Captain Landmann. "Back home, we’d go to the emergency room, take antibiotics and get better. That’s not really an option for a lot of the people here. What starts out as a simple scratch, if left untreated, can cause someone to lose a limb from infection."

Aidan Abdullah, a local nurse who used his medical and English translation skills to help the Americans during the MEDCAP, said these missions are great for the local people.

Local veterinarian students assist the 96th Civil Affiars unit deployed to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with their Veterinary Civil Action Program in Gode, Ethiopia.

Photo by Kristine Smedley / CJTF-HOA Photo

"This is a good opportunity for the community in many ways," Mr. Abdullah said. "It’s an excellent chance for them to get free medication and vitamins. For example, if someone needs medication for a urinary tract infection, it would cost 200 Ethiopian Birr (about $23). Most people don’t make 200 Birr in one month."

Mr. Abdullah said a lot of the children in the area are inflicted with worms, caused by drinking unsafe water.

"The first day people got the medication," he said. "The second day, the worms were out and they came by to say thank you. With the drought causing serious problems, I really believe if we didn’t get this medication at this time, the situation would have become very serious."

Captain Landmann, a physician assistant in the Army and in civilian life, said helping people is what these missions are all about.

"I treated some families I’d treated in November. They looked healthier," said Captain Landmann. "The mothers were so happy their children were better. You could see in their eyes how appreciative they were that someone had taken the time to help their children."

Sergeant Abbe said one person walked 11 kilometers to thank the team for seeing his family and to tell them his children were already feeling better.

The group didn’t just focus on people’s health, but also reached out to the livelihood of the area – livestock. During a VETCAP, the goal is to improve the overall economy of the area, said Army reservist Maj. Jim Riche, a veterinarian in both his military and civilian professions.

"By attempting to improve the overall health of the herds, you improve the value of the animals to the owner," Major Riche said. De-wormer and vaccinations could potentially increase the body weight by 10 percent in six months by removing internal parasites, which steal nutrition from the animal, he added.

With the current drought affecting a large part of the region, Major Riche said farmers must take their livestock farther to look for food on which to graze. Traveling farther means using more energy, which is why it’s so important to have a healthy herd, the doctor said.

Since villagers brought their similar-looking camels, goats, donkeys and cows by the herd, things could have gotten confusing quickly. The solution was marking each animal with a temporary blue dye as it was getting vaccinated.

"An elder in one village thanked us and said that there wasn’t an animal within a 30-kilometer radius without a blue stripe down its back," Sergeant Abbe said. "It was really neat – I don’t think there were any we missed."

Major Riche said he’s happy his team was able to help.

"We’ve made relationships out here," he said. "Farmers don’t have access to any veterinary care, so they may not have a clear understanding of what we’re actually doing to, or for, their animals. So, for them to let us treat their animals – their livelihood – shows great trust. If we can continue to gain their trust and continue to improve their lives, we can make a difference."

Captain Landmann agreed.

"It doesn’t matter how hard we have to work or what time we have to get up," she said. "If we help just one person a day, it makes a difference."