Thursday, September 25, 2014

Medical 1 of 3: Why Medical Camps?

Some people may wonder why we lead mobile medical and dental clinics into the mountains. After all, our work’s main focus is not to provide medical and dental care to the people who live in the high valleys. Nobody on our team has a medical or dental background. So why do we do this kind of work? Let me start off by saying our number one goal is to see fellowships started and hearts changed. Actually, it’s more that just our number one goal, its the only goal. It’s the reason we left our homes and families. The reason we raise up teams of doctors, nurses, and dentists and lead them into the high valleys to conduct mobile clinics is two-fold: First, it is impossible for us to speak to the spiritual need and neglect the many physical needs. Secondly it provides our team with a “platform” to work from and a reason to spend time in a restricted area that the high valleys are located in. The situation in the area that we work in is slowly changing for the better, but the physical needs are still great. There are no roads into the area. Because of its remote nature, the whole area is largely neglected by the government. There are no hospitals and no doctors for several days’ walk in any direction. Because of that, the infant mortality rate is at 50%. Yes, half of the children born in the high valleys don’t make it to the age of two. Additionally 1 in 7 women die during child birth. Those statistics break our hearts. When I first read them, I couldn’t believe it, but when we ask mothers in the village how many children they have, they always tell us both the number of children they have given birth to and the number of children that have survived. It’s not just a statistic to the families—they live with it everyday. The good news is that in the past three years six local people have been trained in nursing and are serving their own villages. They are each supported by different non-governmental organizations. Each of them has completed the 10th grade and then completed a 3-year training course in nursing. Their training is limited, but we have had the opportunity to further some of their training and better equip them by having doctors from the outside work alongside them. Many of the nurses have been trained as skilled birth attendants. Some research that our team helped conduct last year will hopefully lead to a better infant vaccination program. We want to see hearts changed. We believe hearts changed will lead to less promiscuity which will lead to fewer STDs which will lead to healthy mothers and babies. At the same time we feel called to put our faith into action.

Medical 2 of 3: What is a Mobile Medical/Dental Clinic?

Putting the two words “medical” and “camp” together may sound very foreign to the American ear. I remember when we first started working internationally, and the organization we were partnering with was planning a “surgery camp.” Doesn’t that just sound like the worst kind of summer camp to go to? When I went to summer camp as a kid we did things like archery, horseback riding, and swimming. Nobody was getting a knee operation. Internationally, the word “camp” is used a little wider than it is in America. The word comes from the Latin campus which simply means “level ground” and that is what we are looking for in our “camps” - level ground. Or sometimes just somewhat level is all we can find. We travel to different villages, and if there is an established nurse with a health post, we set up in or near the health post. If there is no health post, then we look for level ground to set up our tent. Sometimes that is in a school compound, but sometimes it is just an empty piece of ground in the village. We usually have both a doctor and a dentist with us. We also carry about 200 lb. of medication and supplies. We set up in the health post or tent and announce to the village that we are ready to see patients. Usually that is when the dam breaks we are flooded with people until we turn them away for the night. People are registered and then get to see the doctor, dentist, or both depending on their need. The doctors are able to do check-ups and physicals, prescribe antibiotics for infections, and provide medicine for high blood pressure, STDs, asthma, fungi, and many other ailments. The dentists are able to do cleanings, extractions, tooth restorations (for cavities), and even provide dental crowns. Of course a main focus for both the doctor and dentist is education. Simple medical education about hygiene, diet, and basic teaching on how our bodies work is extremely helpful. The fact that quite a few people in their thirties and forties in the high valleys are missing half (or nearly all) of their teeth is proof that oral hygiene education is greatly needed as well. We usually stay in one place for two or three days, seeing around 60 patients a day. Usually part of every day the doctor will do house calls to those people who can’t make it out of their homes. Those are usually the hardest times for the doctors. For many of those patients, usually with failing hearts or livers,  there is not much we can do except ease some of their discomfort. Sometimes just being with them is the best thing we can do. With everyone we see, we have the opportunity to share with them and pray for them as well. After the second or third day, we pack up and are on our way to the next place.

Medical 3 of 3: True Development

As we said in the first of this series, our number one goal is to see fellowships started and hearts changed. That is why we are here. We believe that when people follow God and their hearts are changed that is the greatest step that can be made in community or social development. The problems we see are complex and many. Alcoholism, promiscuity, domestic violence, child abuse, child labor, and the list goes on and on. It is the same everywhere among all peoples. Do we, as westerners, have answers for all these problems? Does child abuse still happen in America and Western Europe? Yes. Depression? Yes. Theft, Murder, Infidelity, and Drunkenness? Yes. Therefore, we believe that knowledge, finance, and laws or regulations cannot solve these social issues. There has to be more. A heart change is needed, a surrender of wills to His will is the only way we see a whole community change. That is what we want to see happen.

On the other hand, since we are lending a hand in the medical, dental, and education realms, we also want to make sure that we are helping responsibly. We don’t want to condition the community to think that everything they need should come from the outside for free. People wanting to do good can destroy communities that way. For that reason, our medical and dental camps are not completely free. There is no charge to see the doctor, but we charge full price for the medications. From a western perspective the cost of medicine might still seem like a prohibitive cost, but here medicine is very affordable. Some courses of antibiotics only cost 20 cents while some of the more expensive courses are still only about five dollars. So we provide the doctor for free as well as the transportation for the medication (which usually costs almost as much as the medication itself), but the recipient must pay for his or her own medication. The dentist will provide a check-up for free, but we charge a flat rate of 2 dollars for extractions, restorations, or cleanings. In this way we hope to do our helping in a responsible way.