The Jamaica Awareness Association of California (JAAC) recently concluded its 17th medical mission to Jamaica, impacting several individuals and Jamaica’s health sector through its 12th laparoscopic seminar and other activities.
Fifty volunteers comprising doctors, nurses, dentists, educators, technology personnel, behavioural health therapists and other support staff from various parts of the United States were a part of the group which worked in various schools and clinics in the parishes of St Mary, St Ann, St Thomas and Westmoreland.
One of the major highlights of the annual mission has been the laparoscopic conference and hands-on training brought to the local health sector. The non-invasive surgery, which allows patients a shorter recovery time, is one which is being embraced by Jamaica and so, a large number of medical practitioners participate in the seminar in St Mary annually.
Leader of the surgical team Dr Laurence Weekes described the seminar as “successful.
“Following the seminar, on Monday and Tuesday we had hands-on training for the doctors and nurses at Annotto Bay Hospital,” Dr Weekes said, revealing that several surgeries were done.
Annotto Bay Hospital is now the base for laparoscopic training by the JAAC in Jamaica.
“We want to establish a laparoscopic training centre at the Annotto Bay Hospital. In order to do that we have to donate or find donations for all of the equipment and supplies needed for those surgeries,” Dr Weekes explained.
The group also carried out training in gastroenterology, endoscopy, and other areas. All of the equipment for these procedures was donated by the JAAC to Annotto Bay Hospital.
“Because of this endeavour, patients at Annotto Bay Hospital no longer have to be referred to Kingston (medical institutions) and they no longer have to wait up to three months to have their endoscopy procedures performed,” Dr Weekes stated.
The group did over 20 procedures over a two-day period.
This year, the group extended the mission to Westmoreland,where the members trained doctors and staff at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in laparoscopy.
In addition to the surgical team, there were other teams working in different areas including education and technology. The education team conducted training for nursing students and staff at the Brown’s Town Community College Nursing Campus in St Ann’s Bay.
“We have also seen patients who have not seen a doctor in a few years,” said Claudette Coleman, vice president of JAAC. She added that the team also allowed persons to see a doctor for their different complaints and to get the required prescribed drugs.
Dr Raymond Wedderburn said that he has participated in over 20 medical missions all over the world, but for him, Jamaica is a unique experience.
“This is unique in the sense that we work with the local providers so that when we are not here they can continue the service,” he said. Dr Wedderburn said he has also had the chance to work in the Accident and Emergency Unit at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital, where he was also able to share valuable experience.
Dr Weekes said much of the needed equipment for laparoscopic surgeries and other supplies are also donated by the JAAC to ensure that doctors are able to carry out the procedures after the group completes its short, but powerful annual mission in Jamaica.
Coleman said that over US$30,000 is spent annually for the mission. This does not include the large amount of medication and other items donated, which, if included, could push the cost to over US$100,000.
“One of the biggest challenges we tend to have each year is when we make a major effort in the US with fund-raising and paying our own airfares — the organisation pays for the hotel — the biggest challenge is clearing through customs,” Coleman said, even while admitting that the process has been a little easier this year. However, it is still a challenge to get the supplies through customs and off the wharf.
“I’m thinking that would be a really nice thing for the Ministry (of Health) to assist us with that aspect, so that when we send the supplies down it would be a real partnership if they were able to take the items off and have the things ready so we could just get off the plane, pick it up and take it to the people that we are trying to provide items of care for,” Coleman said.
She stated that the process of coming into the country to hire a broker to clear these items could be tedious and stressful for the team, which would have already covered huge sums to have the items shipped to Jamaica from the US.
“The ministry helps the surgical team by providing transportation, but that’s only a small part of the team,” she said.
Coleman said that a stronger partnership is needed between the organisation and the Health Ministry in order to make the process smoother.
She said that inspite of these challenges, being able to serve Jamaica in this way is a priceless experience.
“For me personally, and what I have been hearing from the volunteers, this truly is priceless,” she said.
She said that persons often ask why the group keeps coming back in spite of the challenges faced. However, she said that the joy of being able to serve is invaluable.
“It is priceless when you see the look on patients’ face after they have done a surgery and come back the next day and they are up and walking after a surgery that could have probably left them in a hospital for six to eight weeks,” Coleman said.
“This is my 14th consecutive mission with the mission… it has been very gratifying,” Dr Weakes said.
“I’m an adopted Jamaican; I was not born here, but I have been accepted as a son of the soil and it’s very gratifying. My plan is to go as long as my health can allow,” Dr Weekes stated.
Dr Weatherburn, who is Jamaican by birth, said he left Jamaica in fourth form at high school and has always wanted to give back to the island.
“Volunteerism in always rewarding, but being able to do it in my home country for my people is special. I can’t even begin to express the joy that I am feeling,” he said.
In addition to providing training for local health care providers in laparoscopy, members of staff at the Annotto Bay Hospital have been given the opportunity to go to the US yearly and get additional experience in that First World country.