Medical Mission Teams: Helping Heal Home
By Charles Redding, MedShare CEO & President
Medical mission teams represent an essential component of global health delivery. 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. These teams serve in a variety of different capacities based on the needs of the communities they serve, 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.
For some of our healthcare professionals, participating in medical mission trips is personal. Like many of us, Dr. Carla Haack watched the news in 2017 as Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. But as she watched and read reports of power outages and areas completely cut off from aid, she wasn’t just seeing a distant community of people in need, she was watching her home in devastation.
Dr. Haack grew up in Puerto Rico, moving there when she was 10 years old. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine in 2006 and moved to Atlanta. After becoming a well-respected surgeon at Emory, Dr. Haack wanted to give back. She started traveling with the Emory Haiti Alliance, a MedShare-supported medical mission team that provides care to impoverished communities in Haiti.
On these trips she’d worked in healthcare facilities without resources and treated patients in areas where hurricane damage took years to repair. But seeing those conditions in the place where she had grown up was shocking. She couldn’t watch and wait.
On October 4, 2017, Dr. Haack reached out to MedShare to coordinate the supplies she needed. On October 5th she had the supplies in hand. And on October 7th she was on her way to Rincon, Puerto Rico. Six other medical professionals and relief workers joined her as she made her way back home carrying suitcases filled with primary care medical supplies from MedShare and a duffel bag full of donated medication.
Dr. Haack and her team spent a week providing treatment and performing minor surgeries to those in need. The supplies they received from MedShare enabled them to serve 350 patients on the western end of Puerto Rico. For many of those patients, Dr. Haack and her team were the first outside medical relief they’d seen since the hurricane hit three weeks beforehand.
Every medical relief team that MedShare serves is traveling to do the impossible. They’re going to countries in crisis and reaching remote communities in order to provide care, comfort, and in many cases, save lives. It takes the support of many different partners and organizations to make each trip a reality. MedShare does our part by ensuring that doctors, nurses, medical students, and others have the tools they need to meet the wide variety of medical needs that exist in communities that have faced crisis. When Dr. Haack picked up supplies at MedShare, she wasn’t just collecting medical products, she was equipping herself to support the people she loved during the most difficult time of their lives.
Leaving Puerto Rico after just a week wasn’t easy. Dr. Haack knew that many more people needed care. But as she and her colleagues were leaving the island, she was already making plans for her return. Helping her home recover and rebuild would be a long and difficult process, but having organizations like Emory and MedShare support her efforts will make all the difference. After this initial trip, Dr. Haack knew the tools she would need to help communities heal and she knew that MedShare would be able to provide them. Dr. Haack returned to Puerto Rico over a dozen times within the next two years. In late 2020, Dr. Haack decided her next trip home would be a permanent one, bringing with her both hope and healing.
Each year MedShare provides roughly $2 million in critical medical supplies and equipment to over 350 medical mission teams that deliver health care to thousands of people in several countries.