First doctor visit for some in Philippines

A 60-year-old Filipino farmer with a months-long chronic cough and history of tuberculosis had never seen a doctor before meeting medical officer Major Peter Del Fante in the highlands outside San Fernando.

CAPTIONAustralian Army medical officer Major Peter Del Fante has a discussion with Armed Forces of the Philippines and United States Navy personnel during Forward Deployable Preventative Medicine Unit training at La Union High School in the Philippines for Exercise Pacific Partnership 2023Story by Warrant Officer Class Two Max Bree. Photos by Sergeant David Said.

“He was in a remote area, so his priorities were farming and getting food on the table for his family,” Major Del Fante said.

“We were able to recommend he be followed up by local health workers to be tested for TB with a chest x-ray and setting up treatment.”

Major Del Fante was with medical and dental staff from the ADF, the US Navy, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Republic of Korea Navy doing health screens for locals at a remote high school during Exercise Pacific Partnership.

Filipino nursing students were also on hand to help with triage and translating.

Many people came in to see a dentist, but many parents brought in children with viral infections.

“Those were more about reassuring parents that it was just a common cold and we could give out paracetamol to help with symptoms,” Major Del Fante said.

Other parents wanted advice about getting their children the right amount of nutrition from the local food.

The medical team also examined patients with undiagnosed chest and heart problems and provided recommendations on what to do, such as a chest x-ray or blood tests with the local healthcare worker.

“The cost of service for some was probably a barrier. But we were able to give them a written summary about what they needed to do next,” Major Del Fante said.

Patients were also screened for diabetes, with no positives found, and high blood pressure, with only one positive found.

The exercise ran from August 19 to September 1 and included humanitarian disaster relief seminars and planning, culminating in simulated command post response to an earthquake.

They practised dispatching first responders, managing media, extracting people buried under buildings or stuck on top of them – going through a simulation of about 50 casualties.

“It was the full response of the locals that was on show. We were there pretty much as observers,” Major Del Fante said.

“They are really aware of the possibility of disasters and very well prepared – whether they’ve got enough resources, I don’t know.

“But if we’re familiar with the way they respond, and they call for international assistance, we’ll be able to better integrate, knowing what we can do and what we can offer.”

CAPTIONAustralian Army nurse practitioner Captain Ashishkkumar Joshi demonstrates CPR to students of Lorma Medical College during medical training held in the Philippines for Exercise Pacific Partnership 2023.

Defence personnel flew in to augment US Navy sailors from the USS Pearl Harbor travelling around the region.

The exercise focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), medical and outreach to build relationships with Pacific countries.

Gender advisers conducted workshops with US and Philippines personnel on gender, peace and security, and how to integrate personnel across HADR planning in the Philippines.

Environmental and public health officers conducted briefs in remote villages about water sanitation and purification.

Australian contingent commander Major Jane Barnes said it was a unique experience for the community.

“They were receptive and welcoming. It was really appreciated because they usually have to travel some time to receive health care,” Major Barnes said.

The US-led exercise is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific.

Following its stop in the Philippines, USS Pearl Harbor travelled to Malaysia where it was augmented by another team of ADF personnel.





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