Young doctor provides treatment in the heart of the Peruvian jungle

When Dr. Dana Newman arrived in a remote area of Peru with a Physician Travel Pack (PTP), her American peers were envious and the local healthcare workers were excited.

The new Canadian doctor volunteered in the region of Loreto, Peru from January to March 2009.

“I was glad not to arrive empty handed,” she says. “I want to thank the companies for donating medicines and supplies to the PTPs. They were perfect and I had no problems with them.”

Newman arrived in Requena, a village deep in the Amazon, after an overnight boat trip. “Everything’s alive, all kinds of eyes were looking at us,” she says.

The patients she saw at the Centro de Salud Clinic were mainly unemployed or did not have medical insurance. The clinic serves a population of about 60,000. The young doctor was struck by the fact that very few drugs are covered by the state health insurance.

“There are not many doctors around,” she reports. “The people there are mainly cared for by technicians, who have two years of training.”

Newman, who has just begun a two-year family medicine residency with the University of Toronto, is particularly interested in obstetrics and gynecology. “I spent a lot of my time helping in labour and delivery,” she says.

“I have a strong memory of my 18-year-old patient who had just given birth for her first time,” she recounts. “The baby came early, so her partner, who was out working in the jungle, could not be there. The birthing room could not be more basic: a torn, rusted chair, no monitors, no gown for the patient. Sometimes there is not even running water. The baby was healthy, but I sure felt for the mother. I was happy to be able to prescribe her Tylenol from the PTP – the only pain relief she would get.”

Pain control is a major issue. “This patient was atypical in that she actually received something for her pain thanks to the PTP,” Newman says.

The Peruvian experience confirmed Newman’s desire to use her skills as a doctor in development work. “I would love to continue,” she says. “This experience confirmed that I would like to incorporate global health as part of my practice.”

An Afghan woman finds hope

It’s not easy being a woman in Afghanistan. It’s even harder being a mother, or becoming one.

The women’s health care situation in the country is disheartening. Far too many women die giving birth. One out of six babies does not survive childbirth. One out of four children does not see a fifth birthday. The Word Bank reports, “Pre-natal care, maternal health care facilities, and trained health personnel are virtually non-existent in large parts of the country, contributing to a very high percentage of preventable maternal and child deaths.”

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that according to cultural principles, women are to be seen and treated only by female physicians. In a country where, until recently, girls were not permitted to go to school, it is even harder for women to access proper care.

Gul Ghoti was in pain and she was afraid when she showed up at CURE Hospital in Kabul. She had gone into labour in the early stages of pregnancy so her husband took her to a neighbourhood hospital for care. The doctors informed her that she would need surgery, perhaps a hysterectomy, because her miscarriage was not complete.

Mr. Ghoti was concerned for his wife and the risks involved in surgery. He had heard about CURE Hospital and its quality of care, so he and his wife left the local hospital and went over to the CURE Hospital.

When Gul was admitted to CURE, the Ob/Gyn team immediately started her on medicine donated by HPIC to help complete the miscarriage naturally. There was no need for surgery. Gul and her husband were truly grateful to have avoided surgery and to be able to have other children one day.

After a restful night, CURE doctors conducted an ultrasound and exam and found the intervention successful with no complications. Gul was discharged with multivitamins, which were also provided by HPIC. She returned a week later and was strong, healthy and extremely grateful for the care she had received.

HPIC has sent three shipments of medicine and medical supplies to CURE International Hospital since 2007, essential to the treatment and healing of tens of thousands of Afghans like Gul.

According to a hospital administrator at CURE, few Afghan health clinics provide access to free medicine and many have extremely limited supply. Afghans must attempt to purchase their own medicine and supplies in the general markets, where there is little guarantee of quality. In a country where 53 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, few people could afford the medicine they need, even if it were available.

For Gul Ghoti and her husband, free medicine from Canada has meant the gift of health, and the hope of a family.

Helping hundreds … one at a time

“If it had been my mother, I would have brought her to the hospital.” Canadian nurse Gerry Cormier Caux remembers her reaction when she visited an elderly cancer patient in the Dominican Republic.

The woman was living with her daughter, who was caring for her.

“I was overwhelmed with the conditions she had to live with, but amazed at the love and contentment in the home,” she says. “Her daughter kept her clean and as comfortable as possible with what she had.”

Cormier Caux and her husband were part of a Canadian team that volunteered at the Centro de Salud Danica, a rural clinic that serves a population of some 3,000 inhabitants. They brought two Physician Travel Packs from HPIC with them.

According to Cormier Caux, the people were moved here from untenable situations – from living on dumpsites or losing their homes in natural disasters. The homes were built with donated funds. The people are extremely poor.

Because of a contaminated water source, fungal infections and intestinal parasites are rampant. When people become sick, they have to pay for transportation to town to see a doctor. If they are able to pay the moto-taxi, they may not have enough to pay the doctor. If they can pay the doctor, they have nothing left to fill their prescription. Those who are able to scrape enough together to get the medicine they need will no longer have money to feed their families.

The situation is not much better for people who are admitted to the public hospital. The old woman’s daughter knew that she would have to pay for her surgery and follow-up care – which was simply not possible. In the public hospital, patients have to bring their own sheets, pillows and blankets, and family members provide food, grooming and personal care. Medication is not supplied – it must be purchased at the local pharmacy.

Fortunately, the Canadian team was able to offer pain relievers to the woman, dress her bed sores and teach wound care to her daughter along with how to position and turn her mother.

Apart from home visits, the team saw 123 children at a school assessment clinic and spent several days at the Centro de Salud treating people of all ages for injuries, infections, flu, allergies as well as dispensing prenatal care.

“We can’t fix all their problems,” says Cormier Caux, “but it is a blessing to help the one person in front of you.”

Vitamins give a needed boost in the Bateys

For the past several years, Canadian nurse Marilyn Couture has been taking student nurses and healthcare professionals to the Dominican Republic to administer medical care to people with little or no access to health care.

She writes:

“The most disturbing and inhumane conditions we encounter are in the bateys. Bateys are primitive, rural communities where Haitians live and cut sugar cane for next to nothing. They live in squalid conditions. Most families do not have access to clean drinking water, electricity, education or basic medical care.

“In these sugar cane communities, we set up our makeshift clinics out of our suitcases. Many children are malnourished and have upper respiratory infections.”

Among other medicines from HPIC, the team brought vitamins for expectant mothers, children and adults to build up their systems and give these vulnerable people a better chance at health.

Couture says, “Your donation of medications enabled us to bring health and healing to these desperate people.”

HPIC provides free medicine to the very poor

For many people living in the Dominican Republic, life is anything but a beach party. Outside the hotels, life is tough, and each day a struggle to survive.

Forty-two per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. Access to health care and medicine is limited.

Health Partners International of Canada works with a variety of Canadian partners to provide desperately needed medicine to impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic. HPIC and Food for the Poor Canada recently delivered a significant shipment of medicines worth $3 million to a network of hospitals and clinics.

The medical aid is currently being distributed free of charge to people who cannot afford medical services through five hospitals and clinics in various parts of the country. The medicines treat a wide range of health problems, from infections, high blood pressure and neuropathic pain to cholesterol, asthma and thrombosis.

Samantha Mahfood, executive director of Food for the Poor Canada, told HPIC that “This donation of pharmaceuticals is benefitting thousands of patients and bringing relief to a population in desperate need of all sorts of humanitarian assistance. This donation was received with much gratitude.”

Dr. Felix Cruz Jiminian’s clinic in Santo Domingo is one of the clinics that is benefitting from this shipment. It is located in a poor residential area of the capital, Santo Domingo. The patients treated here are destitute. The hospital is a hive of activity, has a staff of 100 and cares for about 30,000 people every year. The clinic is known for performing corrective surgeries for children born with deformities like cleft palate.

Dr. Jiminian, who is well known throughout the country, was nominated for man of the year in 2008.

“Without this donation from HPIC, patients would be left to spend what they do not have to procure these medicines or simply go without needed pharmaceuticals. In many cases, this could mean the difference between life and death,” said Mahfood.

Food for the Poor is a major relief and development charity that feeds two million people a day and has development projects in 17 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. The Canadian office opened a little less than a year ago and its first major projects are with HPIC.

Students go beyond their borders

Last spring, a group of 29 B.C. francophone students travelled to Senegal for a learning experience. What they got was a life experience.

The students were part of a grade 10 to 12 course program called Global Perspectives/ Perspective Mondiale. The goal of the program is to develop students’ global citizenship through international and development studies. The course culminated in a volunteer aid trip to Senegal.

They named the initiative Yaakaar, which means “hope” in Wolof, the dominant ethnic Sengalese language.

“When we actually went to Senegal,” said Raymond Lemoine, the Port Coquitlam school principal, “the students said, ‘I know we talked about it, but I never expected it to be as different as it is.'”

About 70 per cent of the population of Senegal, a coastal west African nation of 11.7 million, lives in rural areas and farm for a living. It’s a stable Muslim country that has made good progress in development, however, just 30 per cent of its citizens are literate and unemployment runs as high as 48 per cent in some areas. At least 57 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Their projects involved partnering with three schools, a women’s small business program, an orphanage and a clinic.

At the schools, the students’ fundraising went to purchase library books, soccer balls, basketballs and sports gear, six laptops and 20 scholarships to support 660 students over three years.

In the village of Back-Seck, the group purchased a millet grinder to help the local women earn income. The group also sponsored one woman’s higher education. Their goal is to help provide income-generating programs for the women, who under Senegalese law are unable to own land and therefore have to find other ways to make a living.

The students volunteered at the 130-child Madesahel Orphanage in Warang, where they donated milk and children’s clothing.

The delegation also donated three Physician Travel Packs from HPIC, containing medicines and medical supplies worth $18,000, to a free clinic in the village.

“Kids today have access to the Internet and TV, and they see so many things and they become desensitized. But it really struck them when they were there. Some of them were really shocked by what they saw and by the impact of what they were doing,” Lemoine says.

“Some of them were in tears. Our students realized that it takes so little to do so much over there. I am convinced that out of those 29 kids who went on this trip, for more than half of them it will have a lot of influence on what they are doing later on.”

Gabriel Lessard-Kragen, a Grade 10 student from Quadra Island was one of the students on the trip. He said the experience left a lasting impression.

“Creating something and helping people who aren’t as lucky as you, it kind of gives you a really good feeling and you could tell the people were extremely grateful,” said the 15-year-old student.

“I found the whole country fascinating,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of myths about Africa that youth have, so getting a good grip on these things was really at the forefront. I really enjoyed seeing different cultures and how they live out their lives. I thought this course and the trip to Senegal were a fantastic way to see more of the world, to learn more about different communities and expand my horizons.”

The B.C. school district is determined to forge long-term connections to these Senegalese communities. They are offering the course again next year and make the trip once every two years.

from Elaine O’Connor, The Province
for full story see: www.theprovince.com/borders

These dentists have got it right

When a team of dental volunteers travelled to Guatemala earlier this year, they spent five weeks conducting clinics for people who would otherwise not have access to dental care.

Two weeks of the five week mission were dedicated to work in the town of Comitancillo – a community in the western highlands of Guatemala that has no local dentist – and surrounding villages.

Dr. Brad Krusky, director of Dentistry for All, the agency that organized the trip, writes, “Comitancillo is the kind of place that warms your heart – some of the most gracious, friendly, hard-working people I have ever met in my life live in Comi. It is the favourite site for many of our volunteers, and definitely the most difficult place for many to experience. The people are proud, but many are very poor; our visit may be the one and only time they see a dentist in their lives.”

Lack of dental services, along with a high-sugar diet and poor dental hygiene, contribute to rampant tooth decay and infections among the population.

One young girl seen by Dr. Krusky had multiple problems: almost all of her teeth required fillings, root canal therapy, stainless steel crowns or extractions. Understandably, the girl was very apprehensive about her treatment.

Although there were some tears, she submitted to the necessary procedures. An hour later, the work was completed including some sealants in addition to the original treatment plan. The girl got out of the chair and gave Dr. Krusky a hug. The team presented her a handmade doll, which she immediately hugged like it was her own child. “It was a very heartwarming moment for all of us who were there,” writes Dr. Rob Meloff, one of the volunteer dentists who accompanied Dr. Krusky.

The supplies and medicines required for the extensive and numerous procedures were provided by the Dental Travel Packs that the team had brought with them for their mission.

“Our trip to Guatemala is an exceptionally rewarding experience for all of our volunteers,” writes Dr. Krusky. “We witness patients who have walked or travelled for hours just for us to be able to provide their dental care. The hugs and sincere gratitude we receive from each and every patient reinforces how important we are to the communities we serve.”

Although Dr. Krusky admits that these moments are deeply satisfying, his vision for this remote mountainous region goes far beyond annual dental visits by volunteer teams.

“For 15 years our organization has been fixing the dental problems here,” he says, “and now, for the first time, we are taking the steps to work towards preventing them. We are building a clinic in the town.”

Dentistry for All is working with a local aid organization, the town council and other local development associations to build a permanent dental clinic in Comitancillo. Their goal is to have volunteers staff the clinic for at least part of each month during the year with the ultimate goal of helping local students go through a Guatemalan dental program to become dentists and staff the clinic.

Dr. Krusky says, “It is our hope and that of the mayor and the people in Comi that they will take care of their own. The purpose of any organization is to help people help themselves. This town has got it right.”

“Can you help me have a baby?”

In the few days since she had arrived in northern Ghana to do medical missions in remote areas, Dr. Jennifer Wilson had heard many heart-wrenching stories.

“I cannot have a baby.” her patient said through the translator. “Please help me have a baby.”

This desperate woman could not have children. She went to the local soothsayer and he said it was her fault. In her society, that is grounds for divorce and she would be banished to live on the outskirts of the village, cut off from her community in every way.

“Can you help me have a baby?” she repeated.

Dr. Wilson knew that the forecast was grim for this woman who had walked 12 hours to see a doctor. This was not a fertility clinic. All Dr. Wilson could do was listen to her story, examine her and treat her for a chronic yeast infection with medicine from the Physician Travel Pack.

She introduced her to Dr. David Mensah, the director of the Northern Empowerment Agency, the organization that had invited the Canadian team. The NEA works to facilitate sustainable holistic development, so that medical care is given in a context of improvements in water supply, economic opportunities, and education.

Dr. Mensah ensured the young woman’s involvement in a peanut farming project in her area to generate at least a small income.

Dr. Wilson moved on to the next patient, the next story.

One year later, in the same remote African village, Dr. Wilson saw a well-dressed woman with a familiar face approach their make-shift clinic. She was with her mother, carrying her little baby.

Healing had transformed her life in many ways. She was a mother, she was a wife, and she was a successful entrepreneur.
Not only did she have the baby she had wanted so desperately, but she had the means to ensure the child’s future.

So she came to say thank you to Dr. Wilson and to Dr. David Mensah & with a bag of peanuts from her farm.

Emilio finally gets the care he needs

Canadian registered nurse Judi Mallett spent three weeks in the Dominican Republic on a medical mission in early 2009. Here she introduces us to one of her patients.

“This is Emilio. He came from Haiti 40 years ago to cut sugar cane. He lives in a barracone – a cement row house.

“In November 2008 he had an accident in the cane field, injuring his head and his right leg. When I met him, a large open would still remained on his leg. It was covered with one layer of gauze which was being changed once a week by the doctor. Fresh and dried pus had oozed down his leg and covered the top of his swollen foot.

“The doctors tell me that they have a limited amount of antibiotics available in small doses. It takes a long time to heal any infection. The local physician, Dr. Carolina Martinez, switched him to antibiotics from the Physician Travel Pack that I had brought with me.

“Within a week of the new antibiotics and with dressing changes every two days there was a dramatic improvement in his leg. Emilio also was more comfortable with regular analgesics for the pain in his leg. The tensor bandage was used to cover his leg dressing to help keep it clean. Phisohex skin cleaner was used to wash the surrounding skin and foot to reduce bacteria. Fucidin ointment was also used on his wound. He was given multivitamins, as he seems to eat only once a day, and his nutrition is very poor.

“It was my pleasure to be working with HPIC. I was so impressed with the amount and variety of medications provided in the PTP. It made a big difference.

“Dr. Martinez says, ‘Todo es necesario en la comunidad. Todo se usa en la Comunidad. Thank You!'”

Antibiotics work wonders in the Dominican Republic

Dr. Peter Phillips said he saw “everything” in the Dominican Republic during the course of one week in April. When he used the word “everything,” he wasn’t referring to sandy beaches, swim-up bars and dolphins.

His days were filled with treating people suffering from health issues such as trauma, leishmaniasis (a skin disease spread by the bite of the sandfly), hypertension and malnutrition.

“I brought two Physician Travel Packs and treated up to 60 patients a day who don’t usually have access to medical care,” he told Health Partners International of Canada in an interview following his return. Asked if he enjoyed the experience, he responded that he “slogged around in the mud in places of abject poverty.” He then added that “it was a great experience and that the PTPs were invaluable.”

Every day Dr. Phillips moved from village to village to provide care to double the number of patients he would usually see in a day at his family practice in Collingwood, Ontario.

Among the more than 400 people he saw, two stand out. “A little boy came in with septic arthritis in his knee joint. We were able to get him to a private hospital. They performed surgery and drained his knee and we were able to treat him with antibiotics from the PTP.

“We saved his knee and cleaned up the infection. I saw him when he was discharged from the hospital and he was in good health. His mom was so thankful, she was kissing my hands,” reported Dr. Phillips.

Without this treatment, the 12-year-old could have had his leg amputated.

Another person that Dr. Phillips remembered was a girl who had a motorcycle accident. “She had burnt the back of her heel and her tendon and bones were exposed,” he said. The young woman also benefitted from a course of antibiotics.

The antibiotics in the PTP were very useful in treating the many cases of pneumonia he encountered. “These cases were across all age groups because of poor living conditions and sanitation,” according to Dr. Phillips.

He said many of the patients who benefitted were mothers and their babies.

To the donors of these medicines, Dr. Phillips would like to say: “Thank you very much and please keep up the donations. The PTP is a very worthwhile service.”