Canadians lend a helping hand in Haiti

The trip to Beau Séjour in the mountains of Haiti began in Léogane, about an hour from the capital of Port-au-Prince.

After four hours of travelling by motorcycle, on foot and by donkey, the Canadian medical team led by Dr. Philip Vayalumkal and Dr. Jitin Sondhi arrived in the village, carrying Physician Travel Packs from HPIC.

Most patients walked at least one hour to reach the clinic, but the team still managed to see close to 1,100 patients in the 10 days the clinic was operating. Patients of all ages were seen, from newborns to the elderly.

Two nurses live in the community and buy medicines when they can to sell to those who can afford it, but few can. They also deliver babies for those mothers able to make the long trek to reach the clinic while in labour.

There is a health agent hired by the government to manage a vaccination program, but there is no funding currently available to conduct such programs for the people of this poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

The most common medical problems in the region are those generally associated with aging – cataracts, arthritis and hypertension, as well as the consequences of poor sanitation and malnutrition – dehydration, infection and anemia.

But the two groups most at risk are young children and expectant mothers. Among young children, parasitic infection and dehydration pose the greatest threat.

One three-year-old girl presented the first day with fever, vomiting and diarrhea. It was quickly determined that she had intestinal worms but dehydration was clearly the most acute threat to her life.

She was given Gastrolyte from the Physician Travel Pack to counter the dehydration but was too weak to keep up with oral rehydration. She was then put on IV saline and able to keep down the dose of Combantrin provided by HPIC.

On day two, she was still showing little sign of clinical improvement and was given Ceftin from the PTP and chloroquine to cover for bacterial and malarial co-infection. On day three, the patient was alert, able to tolerate oral rehydration and sent home.

“To HPIC and the companies that donated the life-saving medicines, we say a big thank you,” says Dr. Vayalumkal. “Without them, the medicines would be otherwise unavailable to these people deprived of resources.”

Antibiotics bring back a smile

In many places in the developing world, people suffer terribly because of infections in their mouth due to lack of dental hygiene and care.

The word dentist does not even exist in certain languages.

In early 2009, Dr. Robert Meloff spent five weeks providing dental care to a remote community in Guatemala. He writes:
“I saw a young man named Mario in a village called El Jicaro. Mario had rampant decay in all of his upper back teeth and one of the teeth also had a visible infection and required root canal therapy.

“At the village I restored the three teeth without infection and I asked Mario to travel to a nearby centre where I could see him the following morning to provide root canal therapy on the remaining tooth. He arrived at our clinic early the next day and his treatment was completed.

“The DTP provided the necessary supplies, including antibiotics to ensure complete resolution of the patient’s infection after the root canal therapy was completed.

“Mario was extremely grateful for the treatment that we had provided. He came in with two concerns – the appearance of his front teeth and the pain he had in the infected tooth. We were able to get rid of the pain and restore Mario’s smile. He left our clinic a very happy young man.”

All Travel Packs from HPIC contain antibiotics for simple and complicated infections, alleviating fever and pain, and preventing serious complications.

An elderly Vietnamese man makes a “remarkable recovery”

On a recent medical mission to Vietnam, Dr. Peter Hahn made a home visit to an elderly gentleman who was suffering from a five-day history of abdominal cramps, fevers, weakness and decreased appetite.

He was lying on a mat on the floor and his family was gathered around him.

“We diagnosed a probable colitis or diverticulitis,” reports Dr. Hahn. “We treated him with antibiotics and gave him Tylenol and vitamins, all from the Physician Travel Pack. After three days we saw him in follow up and he had made a remarkable recovery.”

Dr. Hahn, a general practitioner and member of the Christian Medical and Dental Society, went to Vietnam with a small mission team from British Columbia. They set up makeshift clinics in several different churches in Hai Phong, Vietnam, where they saw about 25 patients per day. He describes the conditions as “very simple, with no opportunity to perform any procedures.”

The neighbourhoods that were served by the clinics generally lacked medical care. According to Dr. Hahn, there is a shortage of doctors in Vietnam. When they find a doctor, people have to pay for the consultation and pay for their medication. This is unaffordable for many of the people in the community, so they go without.

The Physician Travel Pack and the volunteer work of Dr. Hahn brought needed health care to many. Like the old man on the mat, simple treatments with basic medicines may have saved many lives.

Asante Sana – Thank you for the medicines and medical supplies

The Luhanga Parish Dispensary located in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania, is situated near a polluted river – likely the cause of many of the illnesses treated there.

The shallow river, that swells its banks during the rainy season, receives industrial waste by-products from a textile factory upstream, giving the water a dark blue colour. The area is also littered with plastic bottles and bags.

Dr. Paul Mando, a physician working at the dispensary, expressed concern with the impact of the polluted water on the health of this community, especially the young children, who play near the river. Many of the people in the area are very poor, earning less than $1 per day, and do not have access to clean water. They come to the dispensary with symptoms of fever, malaise, vomiting and diarrhea.

Canadian nurse Maria Lippa has travelled to Tanzania several times and volunteered at the dispensary, where she and the local doctors use supplies from the Physician Travel Pack.

Lippa says that on her last trip, the majority of the people seeking care were women and mothers with young children.

She tells the story of a young Muslim boy, who came to the clinic with his mother, complaining of fever and lower abdominal pain. He was diagnosed with a recurrent urinary tract infection. Local physician Dr. Luke Mabele suggested a surgical circumcision procedure to help reduce and prevent recurrence, which the mother agreed to only after she spoke with her husband and other family members. “The sterile gloves, antibiotics and skin antiseptic provided by the Physician Travel Pack greatly assisted in providing medical care that was safe for the patient and staff,” reports Lippa.

After the procedure, the boy was given medications to take home – pain reliever, an antibiotic and skin ointment – and rejoined his mother and brothers. They received instructions from the nurse to return to the dispensary the following day to assess the dressing and the status of the young boy. According to Lippa, “he was already back to his playful self.”

She adds, “The Dispensary staff and all the patients who received much needed medical care and attention were all very grateful for the donated medicines and often would thank me repeatedly in Swahili with the phrase asante sana, which means thank you so very much.”

Canadian brings relief to young offenders

Daniel Martinez has a heart for kids in trouble. So when he was invited to participate in a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua with a group from his church, he saw another opportunity to do what he does best.

Martinez works at Hope Manor, a secure facility for young offenders in Petersburg, Ontario. In February 2009, he returned to another secure facility, this one in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, to assist three doctors and several other volunteers in a medical mission. The group used supplies provided by the Physician Travel Pack from HPIC to do their work.

They saw some 500 inmates including 23 young offenders.
Martinez reports: “The prisoners were in great need of medical attention, as the living conditions are very poor in the facility.

“In the clinic I found that most of the inmates were suffering from chronic gastritis, ulcers and parasites due to the horrible quality of the food and drinking water. There were many with serious toothaches but the resources are not available to help them. Most of the population suffers from malnutrition and needed vitamins.”

Infection and disease also spread rapidly in the crowded, unclean conditions. Antibiotics and antifungal creams from the PTP were essential for treating inmates.

“The medication was successful and greatly appreciated by the people of Nicaragua,” reports Martinez. “I would like to continue helping the Nicaraguan people, especially the young offenders. It is an honour to work with you for this great cause.”

A family takes action in Kenya

Helen Stevenson and two of her three children attended a Free the Children event last fall and left determined to act.

“The We Day event is all about empowering kids to make a change. They teach children to have a voice and to take action,” explains Stevenson, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health for Ontario. “A former child soldier spoke and we looked at each other and said, ‘We have to do something.’ ”

The family’s desire to take action culminated in their first trip together to Africa in June. They went on a “Me to We” trip to a Free the Children project in Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Stevenson and her three kids, Patrick, 15, Emeline, 13, and Julien, 9, travelled with another family and worked for two weeks on the construction of a medical clinic. “We were mixing concrete and working with wheelbarrows. My kids loved it!” she reported to Health Partners International of Canada.

The clinic should be completed this fall and will make a big difference. “With the clinic, health care will be available all the time. It is a big change from only having a mobile clinic, which is open for a couple of hours,” she said.

Prior to going to Kenya, Stevenson learned about HPIC’s Physician Travel Pack and applied to bring a PTP, which contains basic medicines and supplies, to FTC’s medical team.

“I gave the PTP to the three nurses who provide mobile medical care,” Helen said. “They were unbelievably grateful for it. They were seeking me out the moment I arrived. The PTP is a wonderful idea.”

“People will walk for kilometres to get medical care,” she reported. Common health issues in this part of Kenya include respiratory problems and HIV/AIDS.

The family worked half days on the clinic and spent the other part of their days learning about the people and the culture. A Maasai warrior accompanied them as well as two FTC facilitators, who are volunteers from Canada. The warrior taught them about his culture and was also there to protect them from animals, such as lions, in this isolated area.

Stevenson says her family was moved by the experience and her kids are now committed to helping underprivileged children and communities.

Just one surgery can change a life forever

Just one surgery can change the life of a youngster born with strabismus, more commonly known as wandering eye.

“After the surgery, the child looks normal,” says Dr. Norman Buckley. “It can be very difficult for a kid to grow up with a deformity and the vision in one eye will eventually deteriorate.”

Dr. Buckley, an anesthesiologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, travelled to Baranquilla in northern Colombia in January 2009 with Medical Mission International. He met up with ophthalmologists from Canada and the U.S. to do cataract and strabismus surgeries for people who fall through the cracks in the Colombian healthcare system.

He was more involved with the surgeries to correct wandering eye. In total, about 20 operations were performed on young people from 18 months to 12 years old.

In order to anesthetize patients and manage their pain, the Ontario doctor turned to HPIC for medicines and supplies. “HPIC responded to the request so quickly,” he says. “These donations made it possible for us to do this work. A doctor cannot really accomplish much without his tools.”

During the medical mission, the local church arranged a dinner for the volunteer medical professionals. Dr. Buckley was moved by the presentation a child made.

“He must have been about 10 years old when he had the surgery last year,” Dr. Buckley recalls. “He told us what it’s like to grow up in difficult circumstances and poverty and have a disability. Before, the teachers wouldn’t call on him because they thought he was ignorant and he was bullied by the other kids. Now he has developed a social life. The surgery has had a huge impact.”

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.”