2 pm on a rainy Thursday, I sit in a room surrounded by boxes of latex gloves, red sharps disposal containers, and a group of men and women in camouflage uniforms. I am at the National Borders Service central base camp, where I have the chance to support the Ministry of Health in a three-day malaria training for paramedics, combat nurses, and other medical services staff.
During our time at the base, their vocation for service and their sense of pride in being part of this organization quickly shine through. PowerPoint presentations and group exercises are intertwined with some fascinating stories from the field, loaded with adrenaline, dedication, commitment, and courage.
These brave officers are members of “one of the most highly trained border patrol units in the Western Hemisphere”, as described by Time magazine. They guard Panamanian land and river borders, crossing inhospitable, swampy, mountainous rainforests, and dealing with the risk of tropical diseases and other dangers as they fight against illicit migration and cross-border trafficking.
As part of the 2020 Strategic Plan for Malaria Elimination, they are being certified by the Ministry of Health to perform rapid diagnostic tests and provide initial treatment for malaria patients, which will in turn help break the transmission cycle in these hard-to reach areas with no laboratories or health facilities. Similar trainings are scheduled to take place in November and December as part of the plan to increase timely access to diagnosis and treatment.
As for me, I look forward to continue learning and gathering new experiences, and hope to leave behind at least a small positive impact on those around me as I get ready to enter the second half of my time with CHAI.