This past May, Salesian missionaries in Pucallpa, Peru organized a free medical campaign to serve residents who otherwise could not afford care. Since 2005, similar initiatives throughout Peru have helped improve the quality of life of those living in extreme poverty -- and have shined a spotlight on a much broader effort to provide health care services to those who need it most.
Despite remarkable improvements in worldwide health during the past century, this effort is more important now than ever. According to the World Health Organization, one billion people around the globe lack access to adequate medical care. Of these, tens of millions die each year from preventable or easily treatable illnesses.
“The common denominator here is poverty,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Our missionaries see this on the ground every day. With little food to eat, only unsafe water to drink, and inadequate shelters in which to live, our impoverished brothers and sisters are especially vulnerable to infectious disease. If they survive, chronic poor health traps them -- and their communities -- in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness. “
This is why in nearly 100 health care programs located at Salesian facilities around the globe -- and in partnership with leading medical organizations -- Salesian missionaries are working diligently to help address this inequity.
In Peru, for instance, a long-standing collaboration with ULYSSE -- a French-based volunteer medical and humanitarian organization -- has benefitted hundreds of patients in desperate need of surgery and treatment for lipomas, hernias, and other diseases of the stomach and bladder. While 80 patients were treated in May alone, hundreds more remain on a waiting list. To help address this situation, ULYSSE will offer another clinic in November with the goal of treating 200 patients.
Yet, this high demand for health care services is not unique -- nor is it likely to disappear soon.
In one region of East Timor alone last year, for example, 8,000 people -- more than half the area’s population -- sought preventive, acute, and chronic care at a Salesian-run clinic in Venilale. Many thousands more could also benefit from this care -- if there were capacity to take them.
In Honduras, more than 450 patients each month are treated for acute respiratory infections and other illnesses in just a single clinic operated by Salesian missionaries. This high demand for urgent care pulls scant resources from the very services that could prevent these illnesses in the first place -- vaccinations, wellness screenings, and prenatal care, among others.
And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two doctors and four nurses at Don Bosco Goma-Ngangi struggle to treat the growing numbers of patients with life-threatening illnesses such as cholera, tuberculosis and pediatric starvation.
“These are just a few of many reasons why it’s imperative that we work to help continue and expand basic health care services to as many people as possible,” says Fr. Mark. “With the kind generosity of our friends, we can help our Salesian missionaries and volunteers around the globe reach, and heal, vulnerable populations who depend on us.”
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