When a team of nine Canadian health care professionals set up mobile clinics in isolated villages in Niger, the practice of medicine took on a whole new dimension.
The team used straw huts as clinics. Despite the lack of electricity or running water, they treated some 190 people every day for a total of 947 in five days. Daytime temperatures reached 40C.
Some of the more prevalent conditions they treated were diarrhea, malaria, worms and malnutrition.
At one of their clinics, a two-year-old infant, brought by his grandmother, presented with rapid respiration and failure to thrive. Had the team not been there, his grandmother would have walked with him to the nearby health hut for an assessment and treatment.
A health hut is a community service with limited medications and a health agent with less than six months of training. People often travel up to 7 km by foot or donkey cart to reach the hut. Otherwise, 20 km away, there is a health center with a nurse practitioner and a bit more medication.
According to Dr. Ace Cheung, who met and treated the child, had he gone to a health hut he would likely have been treated for malaria instead of pneumonia since his most obvious symptom was a fever. He could easily have become another infant mortality statistic.
Instead, with the medication from the Physician Travel Packs carried by the team, Dr. Cheung was able to treat the pneumonia and the child’s failure to thrive. This little two-year-old became one more example of a treatment story with a happy ending.
Perhaps Dr. Cheung had the young boy in mind when he wrote a message for the pharmaceutical companies that donate medicine for the PTPs: “Thank you for the unselfish help you have provided in saving lives and relieving suffering for these poorest of the poor in Niger.”
A 21-year-old mother came to the local women’s centre with her 5-month-old baby, looking for medical care. She presented with high fever, tremors, high blood pressure and pain during urination. Her daughter presented with mild fever and irritability due to teething.
Despite their ill health, it would turn out to be a good day. For the first time in a very long time, free health care was finally available to the underprivileged populations in their community in Panama.
Two nurses and a teacher had arrived from Canada with four Travel Packs from HPIC (Physician and Dental), ready to work with local doctors and nurses to conduct free clinics: one at the city prison and another at the women’s centre.
The Rehabilitation Nueva Esperanza is the prison for men convicted of minor crimes. Despite the poor conditions, with medicine from the PTPs, the doctors were able to attend to about 200 inmates.
At the women’s centre, the team saw 80 women and children. The most common conditions treated were sinusitis, urinary tract infections, high blood pressure, skin infections, unhealed wounds, diabetes and malnutrition. The community in general was suffering from substandard health care including a lack of information and education regarding health, poor access to medical professionals and the lack of financial resources to get the necessary medications.
The young mother was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and prescribed medication from the PTP. Her daughter was prescribed infant Tylenol drops for her pain. Because both of them were seen quickly, at no charge and at a clinic close to home, they would make a rapid recovery and return to their normal lives, healthier and happier.
RN Martine Lagasse writes, “The donated medicines allow people in the community to promptly access treatment. The clinic also offers the opportunity to provide health education. Patients learn how to take care of themselves and their loved ones.
“Having a medical clinic organized for the people gives them a sense of hope and a profound sentiment that someone cares.”
The only vaccines available at a clinic in Cité-Soleil, the poorest neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, are the tetanus vaccines donated by GlaxoSmithKline through Health Partners International of Canada.
“The staff is very happy to have the vaccines,” says Joyce Chiles, Medical Team Coordinator for Samaritan’s Purse International Relief, an on-the-ground partner of HPIC. “There is so much debris and rubble that tetanus is a big concern. These vaccines are certainly saving lives.”
Five-thousand doses of vaccine were airlifted Feb. 6 courtesy of Air Canada and are still being administered to adults who come to the clinic. Between 50-100 patients are seen every day.
“Anyone with a wound is being encouraged to get the vaccine,” Chiles says. “Some doctors are giving it to all adults as a precaution.”
Two months after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, people are stressed and mostly living in tents and under makeshift plastic shelters. “Everyone’s grieving and life is very stressful for these people who have lost everything and must depend on the World Food Program for food,” Chiles reports.
Chiles, who was in Indonesia following the tsunami in 2005, says that the recovery in Haiti will be much longer. “Buildings that survived are badly damaged and will have to be torn down,” she says.
“Most people who had minor injuries have recovered now,” she says. “However, there is still so much debris that there are new injuries. We really appreciate this donation.”
The one-room rondavel clinic in Ha Makhata, Pitseng, Lesotho is the centre of health care for the community.
The Phelisanong clinic serves the residents of the Center for Disabled and Orphans, participants in a community farm and livestock program, students at the school on site, and any villagers who choose to come for care.
The facility for disabled children houses about 50 physically and developmentally disabled children from ages 4 to 18, plus several adults who help care for the children. There is also a primary school for about 250 village children, about 65 per cent of whom are single or double orphans.
Personnel from Phelisanong also conduct outreach in 19 surrounding villages, including HIV/AIDS testing and workshops, assisting with income generating projects, and delivering social services to orphans and bedridden adults.
Canadian Resa Lent has been to Lesotho several times to offer her help. She recently carried a PTP to the clinic where the staff provide general health care to people of all ages.
Sandy Phoenix, a nurse at the clinic, writes, “I used the antibiotic creams to treat wounds and an animal bite. The oral antibiotics were used in combination with antifungals in the treatment of STIs. The vitamins were used up quickly, as were the Tylenol and Ibuprofen.
“The medications which came from HPIC were very helpful.”
In the villages of Parramas and Parrajos in Guatemala, the only medical services offered to the population are from mobile clinics run by Canadian charity Loving Arms.
Teams from Loving Arms travel to the area at least twice a year, where they are working on building a community complex that will include a school, a community centre, a church and a soccer field. In the meantime, visiting medical professionals set up makeshift clinics in various facilities in the villages where they use Physician Travel Packs to care for the impoverished population.
Rod Stein, who volunteered with Loving Arms last spring, reports that many people suffer from coughs and other upper respiratory ailments, largely due to smoke from cooking fires inside the houses.
Other health concerns include malnutrition, worms, yeast infections, eye infections and inflammatory skin conditions.
While the team was conducting a clinic in the village of Parrajos, a woman came down the mountain road with her children. Her little girl fell as she ran down the mountain. A member of the team noticed the mother and little girl in distress and approached them to see if they would like to see the doctor. The mother, who didn’t even know a doctor was there, gladly brought her child.
Upon examination, the doctor determined that the little girl had fractured her arm. He was able to immobilize it and give her pain medication from the PTP.
Stein says, “In a world where the poor and less fortunate are often not seen or even thought about, we sincerely appreciate the generosity of HPIC and its partners. By your gifts, these people are able to get basic treatment that so many in the western world take for granted. Thank you from all of us.”
Canadian dentist Dr. David Milner would rather fix a tooth than pull it.
Milner, who carried two Dental Travel Packs with him on a recent dental mission to Costa Rica, says, “The pack was great. The supplies were essential to meeting the needs of the people in Costa Rica. We saved many teeth which otherwise would have been left too long and then have to be extracted.”
The DTPs were used in a mobile setting where portable dental units were set up in various churches in Costa Rica. The team that travelled with Milner was able to treat 223 patients over the two-week period.
Milner says that the main health concerns from a dental perspective are access to basic cleaning and restorative services. There are also patients who require emergency care to relieve pain and infection by extracting teeth that are extremely decayed.
One patient that came for care had severe decay on her upper front teeth near the gum line. Milner says that without the treatment she received, she would probably have let her teeth decay beyond the point of being restorable. “We fixed her up and saved those teeth,” he reports, “giving her a new confident smile.”
A smile was also restored to a middle-aged man who presented with severely worn central incisors. “We bonded composite filling material onto the teeth using products from the DTP to restore his teeth and his self-esteem.”
He goes on to say: “Our missions require the type of materials you provide in your packs, as the days of extracting teeth are gone. The people benefit mostly from having their teeth restored. The supplies you provided allowed us to do that.”
In a nursery school in a remote and impoverished area of Honduras, a medical team sets up a make-shift clinic. People walk down from the mountains – for some, a five-hour trip – looking for care.
Every day, the team sees 100-175 people.
This is an opportunity that the local population cannot miss. The only other clinic around charges for services and medications and most people are just too poor to pay. There used to be a clinic in the mountains that served the local people, but it is closed because the nurses have gone and there is nobody left to run it.
People here suffer from upper respiratory ailments, due in part to poor ventilation: they cook on open fires inside their homes, with no chimneys. Asthma, coughs and allergic rhinitis are common. People are farmers, so they contact skin conditions such as dermatitis and eczema. Hard physical labour results in generalized musculoskeletal pain. Almost all children suffer from intestinal parasites.
Canadians Marianne Tomlinson and Marilyn Nelles are part of the team, using Physician Travel Packs from HPIC to help supply the medication needed to run the clinic.
They meet an older woman who has obviously suffered greatly with her teeth. She has five teeth pulled the day she comes to the clinic. Team members give her extra strength Tylenol for pain, vitamins to strengthen her, and antibiotics to combat infection.
Because of the respiratory issues in the community, the cough syrup turns out to be extremely useful, as are the vitamins and parasite medication for the children. Antibiotics and pain relievers are used to treat a wide variety of conditions.
The treatment is not complex, but it is desperately needed for each one of these patients. A little help goes a long way.
Nelles says, “You should see the appreciation from these people. They are so very grateful! Most are almost speechless with gratitude.”
The distribution of medicine and medical supplies, which arrived in Bolivia in late April, can now begin to relieve some of the suffering for flood victims in the country.
On May 12, 2010, the Minister of Health of Bolivia, Nilda Heredia, accepted the donated shipment from HPIC at an event at the offices of PAI – Ministry of Health and Sports of Bolivia in la Paz. During her speech she said, “HPIC’s commitment to the people of Bolivia is clear. It is our hope to continue with the collaboration of this organization in order to provide medical assistance to those families that have suffered from nature’s inclemency.”
Anne Marie Hodgson, the Head of the Canadian Cooperation Office who provide on-site assistance in Bolivia, opened the event by talking about the joint effort between HPIC and the Minister of Health and her staff to get the much needed aid.
The shipment contained $160,000 worth of medicine and supplies, including pain relievers and antibiotics, which will provide relief for people whose daily life is already a struggle. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, and one out of five people earn less than $US1.25 a day.
The event also addressed the need for work to continue towards the prevention of illness, creating awareness with the community and natural disaster preparation. A representative from HPIC stated “Canada is Bolivia’s ally and we wish to continue with this relation, consolidating a relationship that serves Bolivian people. This brotherhood between nations is today translated into actions and, hopefully, to a future and continuous work.”
In a remote community of Nigeria, 500 people gather outside a medical clinic. They heard the extraordinary news that the facility has received supplies and they have come with the hope of finally receiving the care they need desperately.
A team from the Nigerian organization Peace House – 13 indigenous medical personnel and Canadian physician Dr. Martin Reedyk – has taken over the clinic for two weeks, bringing medicine and medical supplies from HPIC with them.
“We saw many children with undiagnosed HIV/AIDS, malaria and worms,” reports Reedyk. “Diabetes was quite common. We also treated many pneumonias, liver failure, degenerative illnesses, depression, anxiety and other illnesses. Very few patients had minor complaints.”
Five doctors treated 300 patients and 25 people were scheduled for surgery on the first day. After the initial overwhelming turnout, the team began conducting triage by going out around midnight to see the people who were waiting outside, assuming that those who slept outside the facility overnight were the most needy.
The operating theatre was quickly made functional for the repair of hernias and hydrocoeles (swelling of testicles due to chronic infection from mosquito-borne diseases). According to Reedyk, people in the area were too poor to go to the hospital in town, and their conditions were preventing them from farming and providing for their families.
The team was able to successfully perform almost 100 surgeries on patients who had no other treatment option.
Approximately 3,000 patients were seen and treated over the two-week period of the clinic. Reedyk writes, “We thank Health Partners International of Canada for their generous supply of medications that allowed us to treat all patients completely free.
“It was a great privilege to participate as the only expatriate with such a self-sacrificing dedicated team of Nigerians.”
It was a story that could not have ended any better for Roger Mailhot and his team working in a remote village in northern Nicaragua.
Two adolescent boys had been suffering from pneumonia for more than one week when Mailhot’s team arrived at the rural health clinic. Local physicians had been treating the boys with amoxicillin, but the bacteria had proved to be resistant to the treatment. With no other antibiotics available on hand to treat the patients, the survival of the two boys, according to physicians, was in question.
Fortunately, Mailhot’s team was able to intervene by treating the boys with Ceftin, a medication donated by GlaxoSmithKline in the team’s HPIC travel pack. Ultimately, this new treatment proved to be successful in curing these two resistant cases. As Mailhot reports, “the company that [gave] this medication may have saved two lives.”
These two boys were just two of the 1542 patients – including 562 children – that Mailhot’s team were able to treat during their nine working days in the region. Other conditions treated by the physicians included parasite infections, respiratory problems, general nutritional deficiencies and gastro-intestinal problems. According to Mailhot, many of the medications required to treat these and other conditions are unavailable through the Nicaraguan basic subsidized health care program.
While Mailhot’s team faced long days, high temperatures and lengthy travel times in order to treat these patients, Mailhot reports that “…the smile and the facial expressions of gratitude that accompany the ‘gratia'” made the entire endeavour worthwhile.