Category Archives: Medical Outreach Program

Childbirth in Africa – a Life or Death Situation

By Kimberly Ryng, Institutional Relations Intern
By Kimberly Ryng, Institutional Relations Intern

Childbirth is often referred to as bringing new life into the world. As a woman in the United States, I’ve always subscribed to the bright halo of possibility that surrounds the arrival of a new baby.

However, since beginning my internship at AmeriCares, I’ve faced the dismal reality of maternal and child health in the developing world. Elikem Tomety Archer, AmeriCares director of Middle East and Africa partnerships, shattered my comfort zone with a simple remark: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=”~Elikem Archer”]“Childbirth in Africa is a life or death situation.”[/inlinetweet] The truth is, women and children are dying every day.

Elikem explained to me that in rural areas of Africa there are woman who “have no concept” that they need to see a doctor when going into labor. I was shocked to learn that in Liberia, 75 percent of women give birth outside of the health system, exponentially increasing the risk of complications. For example, obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal, is a common complication for immature or malnourished mothers who experience prolonged labor without proper medical attention.

Before my internship I had never heard the word fistula, nonetheless considered that a hole in the birthing canal could be a consequence of giving birth without a trained assistant. Lack of education, proper nutrition and medical care plague not only maternal health, but child health as well. Elikem recently returned from Ghana where she was visiting AmeriCares One Child One World™ program. One Child One World aims to upgrade the nutritional status of 30 orphan homes in Ghana.

When AmeriCares began the program in 2011, 27 percent of the children in the homes suffered from malnutrition and 50 percent of deaths under the age of five could be contributed to malnutrition. One Child One World offers nutritional training to the caregivers of the homes, in addition to medicines and nutritional supplements, to improve the health of the children under their care. Since AmeriCares began the program, more than 200 caregivers have received nutritional training.

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Doctors, health facilities, and even transportation are basic functions of health care in the United States, yet are often considered luxuries in other parts of the world. Women and children in developing countries are dying because of preventable issues such as malnutrition and obstructed labor. I only hope that with more attention to maternal and child health, and the continued good work of organizations like AmeriCares, that progress will be made and pregnancy will no longer be a matter of life or death.

Medical Outreach: The Stories Behind the Numbers

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While interning at AmeriCares, I have at times found it difficult to remember the “human aspect” of our work and not be inundated by the raw numbers. In the Medical Outreach Program alone, we support over 1,000 medical missions in more than 80 countries that have an impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people annually.

While reviewing Medical Outreach trip reports, including one from Dr. Mark Weinstein of Changing Children’s Lives, Inc., I see how the work of AmeriCares enables physicians to provide life-changing care to people who may not have received it otherwise. In May, 2013, Dr. Weinstein and his team travelled to Quang Ngai, Vietnam for 5 days to provide free treatment to 49 patients, primarily pediatric surgeries for cleft lips and palates. The Medical Outreach Program provided medications, catheters, and syringes that proved to be critical in ensuring successful operations.

In his trip report, Dr. Weinstein explained that both the kindness and medical needs of the local community was evident when the medical team was welcomed on the day of their arrival. The next morning they saw more than 180 patients and families for initial screening.

The medical mission required international cooperation between the American providers and their Vietnamese counterparts, providing an environment of intercultural collaboration that afforded a learning opportunity for all involved.

Without the necessary surgery, patients with cleft lip or palate will have difficulty feeding, dental problems, speech impairment, and increased susceptibility to ear infections. The work of the medical team conducted vastly improved the quality of life of the treated pediatric patients. Their work, enabled by AmeriCares, will profoundly impact the patients for the rest of their lives.

I learned that the Medical Outreach Program enables real healthcare providers to help real patients, providing real benefits. With the support of AmeriCares, hundreds of teams like Dr. Weinstein’s travel the world helping hundreds of thousands of patients. By learning about the story behind each of these medical trips, it’s clear that they make a true impact on people’s lives.

*Photos courtesy of Dr. Mark Weinstein

“Who Are We To Sit Idly By?”

John F. Kennedy once said that, “in the final analysis, our most basic common link is the fact that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

I believe that to bring about a solution to the strife and conflict that plagues our world, we must recognize most basic of commonalities. We are all human.

What differentiates the health outcomes of a child from an impoverished family in sub-Saharan Africa and the child of a doctor or a banker here in the U.S.? The simple answer: Where and when they are born. Birth — an unforgiving lottery — is often judge, jury and executioner. Every day 21,000 children die, from starvation, from disease, from war and from abuse. Yet so many people sit idly by despite the need for help, for health, for life. We cannot change every factor in an environment, but the scope of a conflict or problem should not disarm us. We would move mountains to save our own children. Are we not torn asunder at the spectacle of their pain? Then when regarding the unforgiving lottery that is birth, why is it that so many people can label a conflict or injustice as “isolated?” Poverty, disease, war — these are not environments children choose to be born into, these are not insulated by walls chosen by the downtrodden. They are isolated in that people refuse their commonality, deny their fortune of birth and unwittingly wall the poor, the sick and the conflicted within barricades that forever grow. We are here, they are there: more importantly, we are here, not there.

It’s our duty to stand up 

AmeriCares’ founder Bob Macauley championed “The Starfish Story” – a story of a boy who believed in making a difference, one life at a time. Similarly, the scope of a problem is not a justification for inaction. We often hear that a problem is too big or too obscure for any individual or organization to make a difference. This has proven to be a dangerous and sometimes fatal misconception. One act by one person may only alter the life of one person or it may alter the lives of one hundred; regardless of magnitude, opportunity is birthed from  what was perceived to be abandoned.

Where do we fit in? We are the bearers of hope and change to those who had no reason to believe. We are AmeriCares. We are no different than other people. We are human just as they are. So, what makes us so profoundly different? The answer is nothing; we are neither superheroes, rich, nor powerful. However, we embrace the commonalities that bind us and disregard the barriers between us. We do what we do, because we know that any change for the better  is progress.  Regardless of the capacity by which we can deliver humanitarian aid to help people in need – the fact that we stand up and do what we do, as efficiently and effectively as we possibly can – is what makes the difference.

“In the final analysis, our most basic common link is the fact that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

-John F. Kennedy

Speech at The American University
Washington D.C., June 10, 1963

Medical Outreach: Mobile Clinic Helps Hundreds in the Dominican Republic

AmeriCares senior associate Julia Bolton worked in the Dominican Republic with a volunteer team from the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.

When I traveled to work in a mobile medical clinic in the town of Verón, our team of 20 volunteer physicians and students examined more than 100 patients a day for five days. While many could be treated, there were some for whom our team could do little. On the fourth day, one such patient broke my heart.

Edely was a 5-year-old girl brought to the clinic with a minor cold, which was quickly treated. But Edely’s left leg was much shorter than her right. Her mother said a small cut had become infected, resulting in osteomyelitis, a bone infection. A volunteer doctor told me that the bones in Edely’s left leg will never grow and the leg will likely need to be amputated. I was shocked to learn that basic wound care and an antibiotic costing a few dollars could have prevented Edely’s heartbreaking physical handicap.

Ironically, later that day a 2-year old boy came to the clinic with an infected cut on his ankle. A doctor treated the wound using antibiotics donated by AmeriCares. She told me that if the wound had gone untreated, the young boy would likely have developed osteomyelitis—just like Edely.

I’m thankful to have witnessed the importance of mobile clinics. I’m hopeful that the care we provide will mean that other children will not suffer the same fate as Edely. And I’m proud that AmeriCares supports more than 1,000 of these medical trips each year.