This past week I had the privilege of participating in a combined medical and dental brigade to help provide health care to rural communities in Honduras with a campus organization called Global Brigades (GB). The mission of Global Medical Brigades is to empower volunteers and under-resourced communities in developing countries to resolve global health and economic disparities with sustainable solutions that improve their quality of life. During this trip, I, along with 41 other students from Johns Hopkins University and Arizona State University, helped to pack medications, assist with patient intake/triage, health education, and shadow local doctors providing pro-bono consultations.
The first day consisted entirely of traveling. First, we flew from BWI to Miami, then from Miami to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Each flight was about 2.5 hours long and once we arrived at the Toncontín International Airport, we grabbed our check-in bags full of medication and were enthusiastically greeted by the GB staff. A bus took us to the Global Brigades compound, which is about two hours away from the city. We then had dinner, unpacked the medications, and had our first introductory meeting.
The next three days consisted of the medical and dental brigade. Every morning, we would travel for about two hours to a pre-determined rural community and set up a clinic for the people there. Every time we arrived, there was a huge line that wrapped around the entire building (the clinics were held at a local elementary school). For most of these people, the nearest hospital or clinic is miles away and the cost of care/travel are often too expensive. Many of them must choose between working to provide for their families and getting the medical attention that they need, and most choose the former. One woman I talked to woke up at 4am and walked several hours to the village in which we set up the clinic. We rotated through 6 stations: triage, consultation, gynecology (for female brigaders only), dental, pharmacy, charla, and data input.
Patients would enter through triage first and we would ask questions about their medical history, take their blood pressure, temperature, height and weight.
In consultation, we would shadow the two doctors, Dr. Romero and Dr. Toni. We observed the patient/doctor interactions and the doctors would explain the patient’s symptoms, which medications should (not) be used, described illnesses, etc.
At the dental station, patients received fillings and extractions. In the pharmacy, we would work busily to fill patient prescriptions, becoming familiar with the use and dosage of each medication.
At data input, we would transfer the patient’s charts to the Global Brigades EMR system so that throughout the year the Community Health Workers that work w/ GB can follow up with patients and maintain the relationship.
Charla, which means “chat” in Spanish, was a station specifically for children in which we taught them the importance of dental hygiene and gave out toothbrushes and toothpaste. On the last day, we provided people with water filters and built eco-stoves for 15 households to get a glimpse of what the Public Health Brigade does. There was a fiesta at the compound later that night to celebrate our last night in Honduras.
Overall, the trip was an amazing experience and it definitely granted me another perspective in which to view a career in medicine. I gained valuable knowledge, got to immerse myself in another culture, practice my Spanish, learn how to stave off bugs, mosquitos, and scorpions (yes, there was one on my bed), and make some great friends. Within those three days, we saw a total of 797 patients, and I was able to assist in providing treatment to people with chronic illnesses and recent injuries. As a fellow brigader said: frequently, volunteer organizations are regarded as causing dependence in areas where more sustainable improvement is needed. This past week, I learned that, at least in regards to Global Brigades, this is not the case. Medical clinics such as the one I participated in develop programs with the citizens of small communities and continue medical care throughout the year while creating jobs and economic progress in the same villages.
So thank you to the amazing doctors and GB staff (Raul, Pamela, Cesar, and many more!), the cooks who fed us too well, community volunteers, ASU for being a fantastic partner chapter and even greater people, and to all the people who made this trip possible. Honduras will always hold a special place in my heart.
Check out this video made by Chelsi, one of the presidents of the Global Brigades Chapter at ASU!
*Photos from the Global Brigades JHU & ASU Photos Facebook group