Hundreds receive medical care as part of Exercise Shared Accord

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Hundreds of South Africans have received free medical treatment as part of Exercise Shared Accord, a joint exercise between the South African National Defence Forces and the U.S. military.

The Kleinskool Sports Complex was turned into a medical facility where people could receive treatment from US Marine Corps medical personnel. Some people began queuing at 5 a.m. at the entrance gate, which doesn’t open until 8 a.m. U.S. and South African medical professionals provided free treatment in more than a half-dozen tents, and a locker-room building.

The Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) provides basic health care; dental care, including hygiene and tooth extractions; and vision evaluations for community members in the Kleinskool area. It began Saturday, July 23, and was scheduled through July 30.

Shared Accord 2011 seeks to develop American and South African humanitarian assistance capabilities in crisis situations. U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa (MARFORAF), a component of U.S. Africa Command, worked with SANDF to organize the event.

South African naval officer Captain Jaco Theunissen, exercise corporate communications officer, said the local hospitals and municipalities, as well as at clinics, had distributed flyers about the event. The MEDCAP was also written up in the local newspapers.
“It is wet and cold, and people are glad to be here,” said Sergeant Anne Marie Coakley, 3rd Medical Battalion group, who greeted and seated each new patient. While handing over a couple of forms to people she told them about the services available: physical, optometry and dental. Everyone who came was also told they would receive multi-vitamins from the pharmacy.

Sergeant Coakley said that most of the people coming to the MEDCAP on that day were seeking optometrical care

The optometry section, which brought 10,000 glasses, examined an average of 170 patients a day.
“The basic problem here is general visual problems,” said Major Carl Boeck, an optometrist. “A lot of people who just need simple reading glasses. We are also seeing a lot of people who are very near-sighted.”

The optometry section, besides handing out glasses, also gave away sunglasses. The nonprescription sunglasses were passed out to prevent eye damage such as cataracts.
“One of the most rewarding things about optometry,” said Major Carl Boeck, “is we actually get to see our results immediately when people put their glasses on.”
“Taking care of the people here is so rewarding,” said Major Boeck. “It is amazing what they give back to you.”
“We learn from each other,” said Navy Captain MaryAnn Gonzalez of the 4th Dental Battalion, who is in charge of the dental clinic at the Kleinskool facility. The clinic also offered the American and South African dental staff to exchange techniques and philosophy.

The temporary dental clinic consisted of two tents and a vehicle. From here the staff could offer cleanings, fillings, x-rays and tooth extractions.
“We are here for the patients,” said Gonzalez, adding, if a patient had multiple issues, the team would treat the worst problem.

For the most part, people leave with a smile, said Gonzalez.

Meanwhile, Shared Accord has also benefited the animal population of South Africa.
“What they are doing is not worth money — it’s worth gold!” said Koos Croukamp, manager of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Uitenhage, outside Port Elizabeth, enthusiastically describing the work by the 36 Reservists from the Marine Wing Support Service, Detachment B, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, Texas.

The engineer platoon is extending the roof of an existing paddock and improving drainage at the SPCA.
“We’ve wanted to do it (refurbish the paddock) for five years,” said Croukamp. “We could never get the money to do it.”

When it rains everything is washed out, said Croukamp. Any animals in the paddock area would be all muddy.
“Now the animals will be dry,” said Croukamp. “The sheep and cattle will sleep dry.”

Late last year the SPCA was among three sites examined for feasibility and how much impact it would have on the local community, said Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Greyling, engineer staff officer with the 43rd South African Brigade. “The impact of a project such as this would have on the community will be much greater than any of the other two. That is why we selected this one. As well as, we only have 10 days to complete the project. This one fit in nicely into 10 days.”

Lieutenant Colonel Greyling was impressed by the trade skills and professionalism of the Marines.
“I started learning the day we started here,” said Greyling. “It is nice to see it done the right way.