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Medical Mission Teams Addressing Unmet Global Health Needs

Medical mission teams represent an essential component of global health delivery. The National Library of Medicine defines medical missions (MMs) as “Travel by a group of physicians for the purpose of making a special study or undertaking a special project of short-term duration.” Most medical mission teams provide primary health care and surgical services for communities with limited access to health care in middle and lower-income countries.

A large part of MedShare’s health system interventions each year involve supporting medical mission teams traveling to some of the most remote parts of the world to provide health care.

This past year MedShare provided $2 million in critical medical supplies and equipment to 372 medical mission teams that delivered health care to over 30,000 people in 49 countries. These teams served in a variety of different capacities based on the needs of the communities, including delivering primary care, responding to natural disasters, providing humanitarian aid, and battling many of the world’s neglected tropical diseases. Each team returns with stories of healing, hope, and humility in recognition of the many challenges these communities face.

One of the organizations that we supported was Faith in Practice. Faith in Practice (FIP) is committed to serving the poor of Guatemala through short-term medical mission trips that take an integrated approach to care that strives to reach those in the greatest need. Each year, more than 1,500 medical professionals and support personnel from across the United States and world travel to Guatemala, paying their own direct expenses to serve the poor through Faith in Practice. Nearly 1,000 Guatemalan volunteers work beside them in this endeavor. Faith in Practice teams see more than 30,000 patients annually. Volunteers serve through a variety of connected teams to ensure continuity of care across short-term medical missions.

Katherine Bullard, a medical professional volunteer on the trip, shared the following:

“We had a very successful trip, with 36 volunteers working together to perform 83 surgeries on a total of 80 patients during the week of July 14, 2019. Our patients ranged in age from adolescents to over 80 years old and were treated for a variety of general surgical and gynecological surgical conditions. In addition to numerous hernia repairs (large and small) and removal of diseased gall bladders, we performed hysterectomies, bladder suspensions, biopsies, removals of masses and cysts, and more.

The supplies I was able to obtain from MedShare were invaluable for many of these cases. In addition, we were delighted to ensure that every patient going to surgery wore a pair of non-slip socks that MedShare provided, to keep them safe on the trek to the operating room and warm while in surgery and recovery. The various bright colors of socks put smiles on the faces of patients and caregivers alike.”

The majority of the Guatemalan population lives in extreme poverty and has virtually no access to medical care. Over the years, Faith in Practice has developed a deep respect for the Guatemalan medical, clergy, and administrative staff as they seek to meet the needs of the poor. We were honored to support them in this mission.

The number of medical professionals participating in medical missions is large and continues to increase. It’s estimated that annually over 16% of U.S. doctors go on medical missions (Caldron, 2016). Without these teams, many communities would suffer even more hardships including deaths. An obvious question is, “what happens when the team leaves?” This is a real issue, and with this in mind, more teams are incorporating training of local personnel, capacity building and long-term sustainability planning into their mission. This approach will both strengthen the health system and lead to improved health outcomes even after the mission teams have returned home.

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