Treatment for epilepsy arrives in Cambodia

Imagine living with epilepsy and not having access to medicine to manage the powerful seizures. That is the situation of many Cambodian children who suffer with the syndrome.

Thankfully, a team associated with Servants of Asia’s Urban Poor/TASK from British Columbia travelled to Cambodia carrying anticonvulsant medicine from HPIC, donated by Canadian pharmaceutical company Novartis.

“This donation was particularly appreciated,” wrote Peter Schopfer, organizer of the trip, in a report to HPIC. “More than once, children have had to go without medication for short periods of time because none was available anywhere in the country. There is also some question as to the quality of the anticonvulsant medication manufactured in Asia.”

Schopfer reported that in addition to providing treatment, his organization also seeks to address the social stigma associated with the disease. “The Little Conquerors program helps re-establish these children as active members of their families and communities. It also trains parents and caregivers to carry on physiotherapy at home.”

According to Schopfer, this donation will go a long way in helping children with epilepsy lead a happier and more normal life. “We would like to express our heartfelt appreciation for the donation,” the report concluded.

The Cambodian children who benefitted from the donation come from very poor families. “This is a worthy cause,” reports Dr. Ron Lowe, who supported the mission. He has travelled to Cambodia previously and is committed to helping this organization. “The drugs go directly to those who need them.”

There are about 75-100 children with epilepsy that are cared for by Servants of Asia’s Urban Poor/TASK. The medicine kept them free of seizures for several months. “A child with epilepsy can die from a seizure or not develop to his full potential,” Dr. Lowe said of the difference the medication makes.

Servants of Asia’s Urban Poor/TASK is an organization that seeks to serve the most destitute. It focuses on providing health services using local staff and volunteers whenever possible. It goes to where the needs are greatest and operates as holistically as possible on the principles of community and simplicity.

Gun wounds and facial burns – Pediatric care in Northern Uganda

“My first day in Lacor Hospital was the most dramatic,” says a retired surgeon from western Canada who volunteered at the facility with a Physician Travel Pack from HPIC.

St. Mary’s Hospital in Lacor, Northern Uganda has 500 beds for an average of 600 inpatients. Tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria and pneumonia are common, and life-threatening. The hospital’s surgical ward handles general and emergency surgery, including orthopedic, gynecological and trauma care.

Geriatric services are not needed in this community. Life expectancy is 51 years old.

The doctor recounts his experience with some of the patients who benefitted from the medications in the PTP.

“I was being introduced to the staff when the house doctor was called to the emergency room. I followed him there to see a 14-year-old boy who had been brought in by his family. He was in shock from a gunshot wound to his left thigh. He was resuscitated and taken to the operating room where his left femoral artery and left calf were repaired.

“The full story as to what happened was later obtained from the patient’s family and the police. This young man, who had already lost his right arm to infection, is an epileptic and is also mentally challenged. Apparently he was moving around in the night, was thought to be a thief by a security guard, and was shot with an AK45 – a high powered rifle. He was thought to be dead, so his family was called by the police to come and remove his body. When his family arrived, they realized he was still breathing and brought him to the emergency room.

“He required intravenous antibiotics, skin grafting, prolonged bed rest and physiotherapy. He was eventually discharged on oral antibiotics from the PTP.”

The doctor also reports that burns are a major problem, mostly in children, and often due to accidents involving cooking fires.

“Another patient is an 18-month-old child who fell into an open fire pit, burning her face and both hands. She lost some of her fingers and suffered second and third degree burns of her face. These were treated with saline soaks, debridement and oral antibiotics and analgesics from the PTP.”

Medical missions, with an emphasis on teaching local healthcare professionals, have proven beneficial for this Canadian. “This is a useful way to spend my retirement. It gives me an opportunity to give back. And anyway, Canadian winters are brutal.”

Children’s hospital benefits from drug donations

The Children’s Hospital of Nicaragua, “Manuel de Jesus Rivera,” located in the east end of the capital city of Managua cares for thousands of children each year.

Ninety-five per cent of the children who come to the centre travel in from remote or rural areas where, according to a hospital administrator, “there are scarce economic resources.”

Some of the most common conditions treated at the hospital are pneumonia, gastrointestinal illnesses, skin problems, allergies, injuries and diarrhea. The majority of the patients require antibiotics, rehydration solutions, and antiparasite medication.

Maria Esperanza Corea Medina, Manager of Medical Intake at the hospital, says that government funding is available to the hospital for a basic list of medications, but that this is “insufficient for the demand that presents itself at our hospital.” She goes on to report that, “We have had to search for help from humanitarian organizations to obtain medications.”

Canadian charity PAN Missions has answered the call, and regularly sends groups of Canadian volunteers to the children’s hospital with medical donations from HPIC.

“The donations received from PAN help meet the needs for medications, supplies and more,” reports Medina. “The budgetary allocation designated by the Department of Health is insufficient to satisfy the needs of the children in our hospital. Because of this, we are able to say that your help has been invaluable for the little patients that come to our Centre to resolve their health problems by using our services.

“The donations provided through this organization have helped the children who need it most. Because of this, PAN is so important to us. The donations are always great quality and do not expire for long periods of time. This means that we’re able to ration them, and use them for more patients.”

In a one year span, Medina reports that some 26,000 children were treated with donated medicine provided by HPIC and PAN.

“We consider the donations so useful because of how many children benefited in emergency and hospitalization, which are the two more critical areas. They demand so many supplies for constant care that we must provide them with,” she writes.

Medina concludes, “PAN Missions has enabled us, thanks to their spirit of collaboration and help, to save many lives. This brings us great satisfaction. They have allowed us to fulfill our objective of bringing quality care to the boys and girls who come to our Centre in need of our services.”

When compassion takes wings

What does an Air Canada pilot do in his spare time? Ride in a passenger seat? Keith Wight does.

Wight travels to various places in the developing world, volunteering for mission groups. When he can, he takes Physician Travel Packs with him.

For the past five years, Wight has included the small country of Belize in his philanthropic itinerary.

Recounting his most recent trip, he writes, “The five members of our team spent the 10 days working at an inner city school and church run by the Salvation Army. We painted, cleaned, did some electrical and repair work. Our main function was encouraging the workers and spending time with the kids playing hockey and soccer and just hanging out with the school children and the kids who live in the neighborhood.”

His daughter Julia (Masters Public Health) was part of the team for the third time, working with two nurses to teach health seminars to 312 school children and teachers.

She reports, “This year especially, I was struck by the Belizean people’s capacity for love and acceptance. Every year, even though the team changes, the children of the community become our instant friends. Despite the challenges of their daily life, they seem to have an undiminished capacity to love, which I completely admire and aspire to.”

The Physician Travel Packs were handed over to the Belize Emergency Response Team (BERT). Yvette Burks, the National Coordinator, meticulously went over the boxes checking the contents against the packing list. Wight says she was most impressed with the contents and the long shelf life of the medicine.

The medications will be used to assist BERTS, a youth heart clinic and various other public health clinics serving underprivileged people in Belize City.

And Wight will be back to check on the results.

He writes, “All in all, a very happy, rewarding and successful project. We are looking forward partnering with Health Partners International again next year on our 6th mission trip to Belize.”

Good news in tough times in Malawi

Rachael is pregnant with her first child – good news for her and her family in northern Malawi. However, when she recently went for prenatal care to the Ngodzi Health Center, she received devastating news.

A Canadian staff member from Canadian NGO Lifeline Malawi, the organization that operates the hospital, was visiting Ngodzi when he met Rachael. He reports: “(When she arrived at the clinic), she looked healthy and was excited about her pregnancy. I watched the blood get taken from Rachael’s finger. We all watched – Diston the hospital medic, Rachael, and me – as we saw the little “+” take form. As Rachael learned that she had tested positive for HIV, she sank against the wall and began to cry.

“Diston took hold of Rachael’s hand and began to speak to her gently, encouraging her about the ARV program and how he has seen so many people do so well and live active, productive lives. He told her about the mother-to-child infection prevention treatments that LM offers and how successful they are. Her baby could be born without the virus. As she responded to Diston’s compassion and listened to what he told her, she had hope in her eyes.”

Rachael’s story is not unusual. Malawi is a country that is struggling on many levels: it has one of the highest infection rates of HIV/AIDS, an exploding population with limited land, hunger, and desperate poverty. Malawi’s population of over 14 million lives in an area slightly larger than New Brunswick.

Canadian physician Dr. Chris Brooks has been in Malawi for more than a decade now, providing health care to the most vulnerable people in the rural northern communities. Lifeline Malawi, the NGO he founded, has grown to operate two clinics with dozens of staff and international volunteers, and a variety of programs, including support for orphans (there are one million in Malawi), counselling for people living with HIV/AIDS, and post-delivery care for mothers and babies.

HPIC has been sending shipments of medical aid to Lifeline Malawi regularly since 2003. To date in 2009, HPIC has sent close to $300,000 of medicine requested by Dr. Brooks. Without a range of essential medicines, “I couldn’t work,” he says.

In a recent e-mail to HPIC, George Mkondiwa, Chairman of the Board of Lifeline Malawi and Principle Secretary for the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, explained that “Lifeline Malawi is now part and parcel of the Malawi health delivery system.”

“For instance, the recent expansion into the provision of maternity services at both the Ngodzi and Kasese sites will ensure that the citizens of these communities have access to these desperately needed services. The current statistic of 807 maternal deaths for every 100,000 babies born will be significantly reduced thanks to NGOs like Lifeline Malawi.

“On behalf of the Government of Malawi, I wish to thank Health Partners International of Canada for providing Lifeline Malawi with thousands of dollars of donated medicines each year. Thanks to HPIC, over 150,000 people every year are being provided with free medicines. “Bringing hope and healing to Malawi” may be the vision of Lifeline Malawi, but it is shared equally with organizations such as HPIC and the Government of Malawi.

“I urge you to continue with this noble task which is ensuring continued health for Malawians.”

HPIC expects to send at least one more shipment of medicines to Lifeline Malawi in 2009.

Five stars for the PTP

Allan and Patsy Myshrall of Pokiok, New Brunswick have been on 40 international mission trips and to hear them talk, they’re just getting started.

On a recent medical mission to the Dominican Republic, the Myshralls and their 11-member team worked with a local doctor to run mobile clinics in seven remote areas. “These people have little or no access to doctors and even when they do see a doctor, they cannot afford medication,” says Allan, who ensured that the team carried three Physician Travel Packs with them on their trip.

“They told us we would see maybe 50 patients a day,” he reports, “but the first day we opened, 400 people came looking for care. We saw and treated somewhere between 1,400 and 2,000 patients in the two weeks we were there.”

The Dominican doctor did the assessment of the patients and then the nurses from the team dispensed the medications he prescribed. According to Myshrall, the doctor was thrilled with the contents of the PTPs. “He said that for quality and variety, the PTPs were worth five stars.”

The team treated patients with fungal infections, malnourishment, pain and infection, as well as several cases of tuberculosis. The multivitamins for pregnant women and malnourished seniors were especially appreciated.

One 14-year-old girl suffering from malnutrition and infection came to the clinic for help. She was pregnant, and already had a two-year-old son. An 84-year-old man in another community that had never had health services came to consult a doctor for the first time in his life.

The team also visited a hospital where patients had to pay for their own medicine. Myshrall reports, “We were able to help one seven-year-old who had kidney infection and was dying by the day, because his mother could not buy the meds he needed. She heard through one of the cooks in the hotel that we had medicine and asked if we could help. When our doctor heard what type of medication he required, he found it in the PTP and took it to the hospital so the boy could be treated. Several days later the boy was able to eat and go home.”

Having seen the difference free medicine makes for these isolated and underprivileged communities, Myshrall is a fan of the Physician Travel Pack, and of the companies who contribute the medicine that makes the packs possible. “I just want to thank the companies that have donated drugs,” he says. “They have helped a lot of people.”

This doctor is flying

When Dr. Ben Cavilla completed his family medicine training in June, the last thing he wanted to do was to get tied down to a clinic.

“My career is based on humanitarian work and it’s easy for a doctor to get on a treadmill,” he says. Ideally, he will work in Canada as a general practitioner for eight months and devote three to four months a year to missions in developing countries with the NGO he founded called the Flying Doctors of Canada.

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” says the 32-year old doctor based in Victoria, B.C. He began doing medical missions as a student and El Salvador was the first place he went to. “My experience in Central America redirected my career goals. I abandoned my goal of becoming a radiologist and planned on gaining a broader experience to be more versatile in the field.”

This past summer he brought a team down to Nicaragua for the first official mission trip of the Flying Doctors of Canada. The missions will feature clinics and development projects. “I see myself as a janitor with an overflowing toilet. There is a need to get the plumber involved. We need to ask why people in a particular community are getting sick to begin with,” he explains.

Communities will be selected carefully. “The community must need intervention, want intervention and be ready for it,” he says. “We would aim to leave a community within three to five years.”

On the first trip, Cavilla went for a week and brought three Physician Travel Packs. “We wouldn’t have been able to function without the packs,” he says. “We could never have procured between $15,000- $20,000 in medication.”

The Nicaraguan government is very strict about medicine entering the country. “”Thank God we went with PTPs,” he says.

Cavilla’s team consisted of four doctors and two nurses. They were based in San Juan del Sur and from there they went out to various villages to provide two days of clinics in each. In total, they saw 392 patients in six days. “Every day we packed up the PTPs and then re-sorted them for the following day,” he says.

Cavilla estimates that 80 per cent of the patients they treated were women. “The issues we saw related to poor maternal health care, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and births gone bad,” he says.

One patient who stood out for Cavilla was a 24-year-old woman who had a hole in her heart. “This would have led to her death in the next five years without treatment. We are paying for her care and she will be having cardiac surgery.”

Planning is underway for the 2010 trip “We are hoping to expand quickly and work with HPIC again. We couldn’t have done this trip without HPIC.”

Grandma’s ambulance

wheelbarrowIt was not Canadian nurse Margaret Blackler’s first trip to Haiti as a medical mission volunteer, but it was the first time she saw a patient arrive at their makeshift clinic in a wheelbarrow.

“An elderly lady was brought to our clinic in a wheelbarrow by her family,” she reports. “She had previously suffered a stroke, and continued to suffer from hypertension.” The local doctor who worked with the team was able to assess and treat the woman with medicines from the Physician Travel Pack.

Blackler and the Canadian team held clinics in three slum areas in Port au Prince. “The people we saw have little income due to a lack of available jobs, even if they are educated. Most don’t have money to see a doctor and if they go, they may not be able to pay for medication – or renew their prescriptions.”

Blackler noticed that many patients who had been previously diagnosed with high blood pressure were not taking their meds, and their BP was extremely high. “Also, certain infections seem to reoccur or are just left untreated.”

Vaginal and urinary infections were a common problem, as were stomach acid complaints, anemia, headaches, upper respiratory infections, and dehydration and worms in young children.

Most of the patients presented with ailments that could be treated with basic medicine, good nutrition and hygiene – simple essentials that were scarce in these communities. “I believe it would be unusual for them to get vitamins, Tylenol or any medication to relieve stomach ailments since they have little money. Many are anemic from poor nutrition. Those we saw had no indoor plumbing.

“It is incomprehensible to us who have so much to truly realize the impact these medications have in the lives of those who lack even basic nutrition, let alone health care, due to their poor standard of living.”

The medical team held six clinics, where they were able to see and treat approximately 550 Haitians with the medicine from HPIC. “Without the donation we could not have held the clinics,” says Blackler. “Each medication is needed and appreciated. No small or large mission or project could succeed without these donations.”

Teaming up for healthy holidays

Derek Desrosiers, CEO of uniPHARM Wholesale Drugs, says partnership with HPIC is a good fit

Derek Desrosiers, CEO of uniPHARM Wholesale Drugs, is in the business of healing. This year, in partnering with HPIC, his efforts have gone global.

Over the Christmas season, each of the 150 independent pharmacies that are supplied by uniPHARM in British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon received gift catalogues from HPIC to distribute to their customers.

“In keeping with uniPHARM’s mission of providing quality medicines to our customers, we believe that promoting the idea of a Christmas gift of medicine to people in the developing world is a natural fit,” says Desrosiers.

Glen Shepherd, president of HPIC, agrees. “The HPIC gift catalogue offers people who are benefiting from excellent healthcare services here the opportunity to provide desperately needed medicine to somebody living in poverty. It’s a great gesture at Christmas, or anytime.”

According to Desrosiers, his group didn’t have to think twice about supporting HPIC, both through the catalogue campaign and a corporate contribution. “Everybody was on board – the directors, the staff and the shareholder pharmacies.

“In this season of peace and joy, we are thrilled that Health Partners International of Canada is providing assistance to developing countries in need of medical aid.

“We know how important medicine is. We’re just happy to do our part so that more people will be able to have access to it.”

Freedom and healing for Trokosi slave

For hundreds of years in the Volta region of Ghana, West Africa, the Trokosi practice (Trokosi means “slaves to the gods”) has been enslaving young virgin girls in ritualistic sexual bondage.

These innocent children, some as young as five years old, are given by their parents under the fear of the death curses of the Fetish Priest to serve a life of slavery in the Fetish shrines as payment for the crimes and offenses of others.

Teams of Canadian volunteers, including several healthcare workers, travel to Ghana every year with IN Network to support a program of freeing and rehabilitating the girls and women who are caught in this slavery. The Trokosi Liberation and Vocational Training Project has so far pushed the Ghanaian government to pass a law making the Trokosi practice a criminal offense, has successfully halted the practice at 31 shrines and has liberated some 3,500 women as well as their children.

The release of the women is just the beginning. They are integrated into IN Network’s Vocational Training Program where they learn to read and write and are taught a marketable skill, enabling them to eventually provide for themselves and their children. The children also are rehabilitated through the loving staff at IN Network schools. The entire family is provided with nutritional food, clothes, counselling and medical care.

That medical care comes in part from the Canadian doctors who have been taking Physician Travel Packs with them to treat the victims of the Trokosi ritual for the past five years.

Dr. Neal Stretch and his wife Aggie, a teacher and sexual abuse counsellor, are veterans of the IN Network medical mission trips to Ghana. Dr. Stretch calls these trips a “short-term mission with long-term benefits.” Over the years, the Stretch’s have seen sustainable improvements in the community, as local healthcare workers are being trained to continue the services when the visitors are gone.

And every year, they see the difference their efforts and the gift of medicine have made.

“Two years ago,” says Dr. Stretch, “we saw a teenage girl with osteomyelitis in her jaw. It was infected and draining pus. She literally had a hole in her face.” He treated his patient and left her with a strong regimen of antibiotics from the PTP, and returned to Canada shortly after. “We saw her again the next year,” he says. “She came to say thank you. She was completely better.”

“In fact, people often walk back to our clinics years later to say thanks.”

Dr. Stretch refers to the PTP as the “cornerstone” of the medical missions. “The PTP has become an invaluable tool in our work. It is integral to the success of our program,” says Dr. Stretch.

“I would never leave home without it!”

(Trokosi information from