Humanitarian Aid: O&P Brings Healing Work Worldwide

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The generosity of the people who comprise the O&P industry seems to be without measure or limit. When we set out to cover the topic of Humanitarian Aid, the well of possible sources to talk with was very deep. You can't look at O&P humanitarian efforts without considering the work of the Barr Foundation, Healing Hands for Haiti (HHH), the Orthotic and Prosthetic Assistance Fund (OPAF), the Prosthetic Outreach Foundation (POF), Sonrie Ministries, and the World Rehabilitation Fund (WRF), among countless others too numerous to list. In the next several pages we take a closer look at the work of some of the humanitarian aid groups that you may already know well and a few that might be less familiar, including Physicians for Peace, the Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF), and the Center for International Rehabilitation (CIR). We also look at The Digital Resource Foundation for the O&P Community (DRFOP) and its O&P Humanitarian Database, a growing directory of humanitarian efforts throughout the field. Unfortunately, "need" in many parts of the world is insatiable, and there is no shortage of places to contribute if you have a hand to lend. At deadline we were still receiving suggestions of different groups to take a look at. We will examine some of these other aid agencies in future issues. Thank you for letting us share just a few stories of O&P aid in action this month in this special section.

Physicians for Peace delivers Mission of Training to Nations in Need

İStephen M. Katz
İStephen M. Katz

"If you heal someone, you help one person. If you teach someone to heal, you help many."

--Dr. Charles Horton, founder and chairman, Physicians for Peace

Operating on the premise of helping establish sustainable medical relief in areas of limited resources, Physicians for Peace, Norfolk, Virginia, is an international, humanitarian, nonprofit, medical education organization committed to providing education and training, clinical care, and supplies to nations in need.

Dr. Charles E. Horton Sr., an internationally acclaimed humanitarian and renowned plastic surgeon from Norfolk, established Physicians for Peace in the early 1980s as a private, volunteer, non-political, non-sectarian organization. The organization was legally founded in 1989. Over the past 15 years, Physicians for Peace has implemented many replicable and sustainable programs in countries throughout Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, >Central America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Its volunteer medical and health professional teams have included healthcare providers from Iran and Iraq, Turkey and Greece, Palestine and Israel, the Philippines and Japan.

Physicians for Peace provides healthcare programs in several disciplines, including burn care, dental, ophthalmology, pediatrics, women's health, and its Walking Free Program. The organization designed the Walking Free Program to assist in establishing sustainable prosthetic and rehabilitation centers in developing nations. The program includes prosthetic and orthotic production, clinical and academic education programs, direct patient care, surgical and medical management, and public education.

Amputee victims of landmines, natural disasters, accidents, birth defects, disease, and war often receive little or no continuing medical treatment in troubled regions of the world.

The Walking Free Program first launched in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in 2000 and was expanded to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 2001. The program is in different stages of implementation in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Manila, Philippines; Guatemala; and Basra, Iraq.

İStephen M. Katz
İStephen M. Katz

Ben Blecha, CPO, who practices in Colorado and Nebraska, first learned about Physicians for Peace and Walking Free at an ISPO meeting in 2004 and recently became involved when he attended an assessment mission to Guatemala early this year. "I always wanted to do this type of work in other countries and work in a situation where there was a good follow-up program. Physicians for Peace fit how I feel about it philosophically."

"The first thing that we do is a fact finding mission to the country that has expressed interest in the program to assess local resources," explained Mary Kwasniewski, the organization's coordinator for international medical programs. She said that Physicians for Peace only goes into countries that have invited them and builds on infrastructure and resources that already exist emphasizing that they are not just supplying short-term care or creating new infrastructure.

"We are not going in and setting up clinics and building buildings. We work with clinics and facilities that are already there, helping make them viable and sustainable over the long-term," said Kwasniewski. The support the group provides to reach this goal of long-term sustainability includes education and training, patient care, business support, and assistance with access to supplies, including donated components.

"We don't come in and mandate a process but learn from the host country as much as they learn from us and tailor the host programs to meet the individual needs in each location," she said, noting that for example, some countries are familiar with and have access to more advanced componentry than others and that the program must be designed around the skill set and resources available at each particular location.

Walking Free Milestones

  • Conducted more than 20 research, education, and training missions in developing nations.
  • Provided two foreign prosthetists with three-month specialized academic and clinical training and provided clinical and academic training to more than 1,000 doctors, nurses, therapists, and practitioners in developing nations.
  • Helped more than 10,000 patients with prosthetic and orthotic needs.
  • Provided more than $2 million in prosthetic and orthotic in-kind contributions, including rehabilitation and surgical supplies and equipment.

Blecha emphasized that a main focus is on educating the local practitioners. In May, Blecha and some colleagues also involved with Physicians for Peace will return to Guatemala to provide further education with another follow-up training visit planned for November. Blecha said that when a program is being set up they will try to go to the location about three times a year to build on educational efforts. During those visits the volunteers will spend one to two weeks working with the local practitioners in seminars, on course work, and side-by-side in the clinics treating patients. Once a mission is completed, the volunteer practitioners will maintain contact with the Walking Free host country practitioners, communicating and consulting over e-mail about how to handle specific patients and situations."We always go in with an exit plan. A three-to-five year plan, that at the end of that term a facility is trained, self-sustained, and operating as planned so that our resources can then be used elsewhere," said Kwasniewski.

İStephen M. Katz
İStephen M. Katz

"They are set up so that when we leave, the community does not miss a beat, the work just keeps going," added Blecha.

"A lot of what we do is hard to measure. You can say we have given a certain number of prosthetics but it is not just about that. It is about changing lives and improving quality of life," said Kwasniewski.

"The best stories we have are about the children. Because children are so adaptable and able to learn so quickly & a child will come into a clinic in a wheelchair and without being able to walk, and leave with a new prosthesis being able to run down the hall," she said.

That says it all.

Through the hard work of staff, selfless volunteerism of health professionals, invaluable gifts-in-kind provided by corporations, and charitable contributions of individuals, Physicians for Peace goes where medical training assistance is needed, affecting health concerns in those areas and, ultimately, improving the health and lives of the population.

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