April 25, 2003

International Medicine division reaches out with Guyana medical mission

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Gail Bright and Barbara Stewart, both nurses with Nurses for Newborns of Tennessee, take a look at some of the donated items at the baby shower. (photos by Dana Johnson)

International Medicine division reaches out with Guyana medical mission

In a country no larger than the state of Idaho and little money spent on public health, Guyana residents are accustomed to fending for themselves when it comes to health care.

Despite free health care in what has been described as one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, more than 3 percent of its population is dying from AIDS, and it’s estimated that more than 12 percent of the population do not have access to any health care.

It’s under these conditions that Dr. Jeff McKinzie, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and director of International and Travel Medicine, and his team will reach out to the people in Georgetown, Guyana later this month as part of their mission to promote clinical service, education, and research in the areas of international health, medical missions, and travel medicine.

Thirteen physicians, six registered nurses, one nurse practitioner and one non-medical volunteer will be part of the Vanderbilt team that is made up from diverse clinical areas including the Emergency Department, LifeFlight, Resuscitation Program, and Neonatal ICU.

“This project was conceived with the help of Dr. John Rohde, chief resident in Emergency Medicine,” McKinzie explained. “Dr. Rohde grew up in Guyana and his parents still live there.”

McKinzie said he and Rohde traveled to Guyana in September 2002 to assess the feasibility of taking a medical team there. It was then that relationships were established with the Guyana Ministry of Health, Georgetown Public Hospital (the main teaching and referral center in Guyana) and the First Lady of Guyana, Uma Jagdeo.

“Mrs. Jagdeo has a particular interest in promoting the health of the poor and underserved people of Guyana,” McKinzie said. “And she invited us to bring a medical team to Guyana.”

The Vanderbilt team will spend time observing and working in various clinical settings at Georgetown Public Hospital, including the Emergency Department, ICU, and various wards. Dr. Debra Dodd, assistant professor of Pediatrics in Pediatric Cardiology, will be doing cardiac evaluations and echocardiograms on children with known or suspected congenital heart disease.

“That part of the project is being done in cooperation with Kids First Fund, a nonprofit organization formed by the First Lady of Guyana and dedicated to providing health care for Guyana’s children,” McKinzie said.

Les Wooldridge, manager of the Resuscitation Program, will direct efforts to teach Guyanese physicians and nurses Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS).

“We are working in cooperation with the American Heart Association and the InterAmerican Heart Foundation to offer this course,” McKinzie said. “Our nurses will also be providing some additional nursing education sessions for their Guyanese colleagues.”

The team will also assist in the development of an emergency medicine curriculum for Guyanese physicians. As part of this project, Vanderbilt physicians will conduct an assessment of the current status of emergency services in Guyana and identify areas where additional training would be most beneficial.

Individual team members are contributing the majority of the funds necessary to underwrite the cost of the trip. Emergency Medicine is also providing financial, logistical, and administrative support for the project. In addition, some corporations are assisting with donations of equipment or money.

This is McKinzie’s second medical mission with a Vanderbilt group. In May 2002, he led a group of Vanderbilt volunteers to Peru on a humanitarian medical mission. While the Peru team was comprised primarily of Vanderbilt faculty and staff, it was not an “official” university-sponsored activity.

“That trip was very successful and generated much interest within the Vanderbilt community, including many inquiries regarding possible participation on similar trips in the future,” he said. “With the support of Dr. Corey Slovis, chairman of the department of Emergency Medicine, the Division of International Medicine was established. This is the division’s first outreach project.”

McKinzie has been on a total of nine medical missions to Peru, and also made medical trips to Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Uganda.

“Some of these trips have had a clinical focus (taking care of patients) and others have emphasized education (teaching local health care providers),” he said.

Guyana is located in the northern part of the Amazon Basin of South America. Formerly British Guiana, it is the only English speaking country in South America, and bordered by Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana) to the west, south and east respectively.

Life expectancy in Guyana is 61 years for men and 68 years for women.

McKinzie said the objectives of the trip—clinical service, education, and research—were a reflection of the core values in Vanderbilt’s mission.

“Our team members will benefit personally and professionally by participating in this project. They will have the opportunity to share their professional knowledge and experience with colleagues from a different country, culture, and health care system. In doing so, they will have the opportunity to experience the people and culture of Guyana in a unique way,” he said. “They will also gain insight into the health care system of Guyana, a developing country with limited resources.”