HEALTH & EDUCATION RELIEF ROUND-UP 2016:
THOUSANDS SERVED AS VOLUNTEER MISSIONS EXPAND PROGRAM PORTFOLIO
by Collie Oudkerk, M.D.*
In missions to Guyana during the months of March and August 2016, volunteer teams from the Health and Educational Relief Organization (HERO) surpassed all previous relief records by directly administering quality healthcare to more than 2,000 medical patients and successfully completing more than 50 surgeries in villages and municipalities across the country. Our Literacy and Educational Support Summer Program also doubled its footprint: in addition to our previously established tutoring service for elementary students in the communities of Sophia and Den Amstel, the program was expanded in 2016 to serve children at Mocha Village on the East Bank Demerara and Lusignan on the East Coast Demerara as well. Originally designed as a summer-long tutoring program to help struggling students achieve grade-level proficiency, the 2016 expansion enables us now to conduct a year-long pilot project to support eligible students in preparing for standardized exams throughout the school year.
Medical, Surgical Missions Break New Ground
Our March Medical Mission consisted of 36 physicians and surgeons, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other frontline primary-care providers who conducted an intensive five-day outreach program from March 5th to 12th, in the cities of Linden and Georgetown (click here for complete list of Mission participants/hyperlink). In August, many of those providers re-enlisted and were among the 46 mission specialists who participated in our expanded summer program, consisting of direct clinical outreach to patients in the villages of Lusignan, Golden Grove and Mocha, in addition to the cities of Georgetown and Linden and their contiguous communities of Amelia’s Ward, Christianburg, One Mile Wismar and Sophia. For the second consecutive year, a one-day Health Fair held in the Linden city center also proved to be a spectacular success; scores of residents took advantage of our free screenings and on-the-spot counseling and treatment protocols for high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and prostate abnormalities.
Our August medical mission was further augmented by the presence of volunteers from allied specialties including pharmacists, nutritionists and emergency medical technicians. As in previous years, our professional clinicians were supported by a team of enthusiastic pre-medical, nursing and pharmacy students for whom our mission constituted an invaluable opportunity for both professional and cultural enrichment.
Our surgical program also exceeded previous performance records in 2016. In addition to our veteran cadre of orthopedic and other specialist surgeons, our surgery program was further enhanced by the addition of Dr. Paul Rollins, a plastic surgeon providing much needed reconstructive surgeries for women affected by breast cancer, as well as Dr. Brian Whyte, a vascular surgeon whose expertise will be of particular assistance to patients affected by longstanding diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease. Our team was further strengthened by the addition of Dr. DoronRingler, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and Dr. OpeyemiLamikanra, who is also an orthopedic and hand surgeon (click here for complete list of August Mission participants/hyperlink). Our surgical teams continue to work closely with their local counterparts and to mentor younger surgeons in Guyana in a mutually collaborative relationship.
Vision Care, Literacy Programs on the Rise
Since its inception nearly two years ago, our Vision Care program has provided free eye glasses to more than 500 patients. Led by Dr. Tanesha Bazemore, Dr. Sharon Gordon and Mr. Jon Mitchell, the program once again conducted extensive vision screenings and eye exams at Project Dawn, located in Liliendaal, Georgetown on the East Coast Demerara as part of our 2016 summer mission. Nutritional counseling was also provided to those at risk of collateral complications arising from chronic conditions such as diabetes. Referrals were offered as warranted to those requiring ophthalmological interventions for anatomical abnormalities or diseases of the eye.
On the literacy and educational front, a doubling of our program footprint from two to four locations means that we are now able to reach at least twice as many students who can benefit from our tutoring services. Moreover, in addition to our six-week summer intensive, we have now launched our new, year-long pilot project to help eligible students prepare for the standardized exams. Students are nominated for enrollment on the basis of their assessed need, and are also provided with backpacks and other school supplies at no cost to their families. Classes are conducted by locally certified teachers who are screened and recruited by an independent agency contracted by HERO for this purpose. The response to this initiative thus far has been exceptionally robust.
HERO is profoundly grateful to our volunteer experts and specialists, students, and other well-wishers for making 2016 yet another banner year for our organization and we look forward to your continued support of our efforts in the years ahead.
*Dr. Collie Oudkerk is a practicing physician and President of the Health and Education Relief Organization (HERO).