CHARLESTON, W.V., - Poor dental health, lack of adequate
immunizations, and a shortage of resources for preventive care are many of
the challenges involved in providing health care in rural settings, the
chief of aerospace medicine here at the Charleston Air National Guard base,
Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Steve Nathanson led a team of American
military and civilian rural health experts on a mission to Peru recently to
exchange ideas with that country's Ministry of Health on how best to combat
these challenges and implement effective rural health practices.
Nathanson, who works full time for Team Health Atlantic as chief of
emergency medicine at Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, W.V.,
said education is the key.
"I think the best thing we could help with is basic education. If we
give people some basic education and then spread them throughout the rural
parts of the country, that is probably where we could do the most good over
the longest period of time," Nathanson said.
"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he
eats for a lifetime. That old proverb might be the best way to describe how
we could best help the people of Peru."
The visit was coordinated with the Peruvian Ministries of Defense
and Health under the National Guard's State Partnership Program, which was
created in the 1990's as a means of reinforcing military and civilian
relationships with developing countries to strengthen economic, military and
West Virginia has been partnered with Peru since 1996 and was one of
the first two states to implement the partnership program in the U.S.
Southern Command area of operations. That area includes more than 31
countries and 10 territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Since the program's inception, West Virginia Guardsmen have
coordinated more than 30 exchanges with various Peruvian government
"It's not about fighting wars," said Maj. Todd Miller, West
Virginia's partnership coordinator. "We want to demonstrate our desire to
make the world a better place and to be a good neighbor. We can do this in
places like Peru by developing long-term relationships based on mutual
interests," Miller said.
A team of leading rural health experts from around the country
accompanied the West Virginia Guard on the week-long visit.
Heading up the civilian group was Hilda Heady, whose impressive
resume includes 10 years as president of a rural hospital in West Virginia
and nearly 20 years as the associate vice-president for rural health at West
"I was honored to be asked by the West Virginia Guard to help them
take a global view of the rural health needs in Peru," Heady said. "My first
impression is that there are a lot of similarities between our countries
that have populations spread over mountainous areas and desert or sparse
areas where the population lives."
Heady said Peruvians have the same challenges in terms of access to
healthcare as do Americans who live in rural areas.
"Given particularly the experience we've had in the U.S. trying to
increase access for pregnant women to healthcare, to immunizations, to
education, it's been wonderful sharing those experiences from one country to
another," Heady said.
The next step in this rural health initiative, said Miller, is to
bring Peruvian health officials to the U.S. to visit West Virginia's rural
"Doing that would reinforce many of the discussions held in Peru and
establish a long-term plan for conducting more tangible, results-oriented
initiatives in the future," he said.