Calgary Herald feature: City doctor departs on mission to impoverished villages of Ecuador

While most people are packing their suitcases for summer holidays, hoping they won’t be dinged by airline luggage restrictions, Calgary doctor Manuel Mah is stuffing as much prescription medication into his bags as he can fit.

The Rockyview Hospital physician flies out Saturday for the impoverished remote mountain villages of Ecuador.

Mah is part of a two-week medical mission to bring basic health care to villagers who often go years without medical attention.

“It’s a huge thing for them because they could never afford these kinds of pharmaceuticals on their own,” Mah said Wednesday as he packed for the trip.

Mah will be carrying two 23-kilogram packs containing drugs and supplies that will allow his team to treat patients in mobile clinics.

The drugs, donated by Health Partners International of Canada, will be enough for 1,200 treatments. The only catch  Mah and his team must lug the packs each day as they make their way up the steep and nauseatingly windy roads of the Ecuadorian Andes.

“We’re up at 9,000-feet elevation and the bus rides can be a little bit thrilling on those roads,” Mah admits. “But the views are spectacular.”
The mobile team, assembled by Medical Ministry International, moves to a new village each day.

Villagers line up for hours to see doctors, many of them travelling huge distances for the care.

“These people, some of them see us once a year when we show up. Otherwise, they don’t seek medical attention locally unless it’s a dire crisis, a life-threatening thing.”

Mah said the team tries to do as much as they can while they are there, providing fluoridation treatments to children and referring more serious medical issues to a volunteer surgical team in Ambato, south of the capital city of Quito.