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Health // Doctor in the House
Rasa Fournier

Medical Mission To The Philippines

Dr. Arnold Villafuerte
Co-chairman of a medical/humanitarian mission to the Philippines

Where did you receive your schooling/training?

I received my schooling from a medical school in the Philippines and my masters in public health at UH Manoa. I am currently employed with the State Department of Health as program director of the Bilingual Health Services Section – Chronic Disease Management and Control Branch. I have been in this position for more than two decades now. Prior to that I was employed at the former St. Francis Hospital.

Tell us about your mission to the Philippines.

The Philippines has been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan and thousands have been affected with 5,000-plus deaths, more than a thousand still missing and thousands of families experiencing the unimaginable.

Help from more than a dozen medical professionals and about two dozen other allied health professionals from Hawaii was organized immediately after the calamity for a medical mission to the Philippines. My role is co-chairman and volunteer, together with Dr. Charlie Sonido, president of the Titans USA Foundation, and Dr. Russell Kelly, president of the Ohana Medical Missions, which is the missionary arm of the Philippine Medical Association of Hawaii (PMAH). I am the immediate past-president of PMAH, whose members have, over time, organized small missions to their respective towns of origin in the Philippines, and such missions are selfless acts wherein you provide health care services for free.

Missions entail long, difficult hours under less-than-ideal conditions, but the work is gratifying. Mission volunteers donate their precious time and personal resources, spending our own monies for travel, accommodations and expenses during the mission.

I have been joining medical missions to the Philippines for more than a decade. With our current group, this will be my fifth year of participation. In 2011, I coordinated the medical mission in the province of Davao, where we served around 20,000 medical and surgical patients in five areas. This time, in the Visayas (the area affected by Haiyan), we expect to serve twice as many patients since we are spending more days in the “needy” areas. Most of the group members will be flying out Dec. 10 to 23. Five days will be spent on our medical mission in the Visayas and the rest of the days will be in the Ilocos provinces and Payatas in Quezon City, a community of homeless people. This is where garbage is dumped and people rummage to find food for survival. This part of the trip was planned prior to the typhoon.

Medical care will cover more than the usual acute diseases such as high blood pressure, chronic obstructive lung disease and diabetic screening. Long-term maintenance treatment will be provided for many patients, and medical and surgical consultations will be provided for free. The mission team is comprised of volunteer physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other medical personnel.

The group will be home-based in Cebu. Areas we visit will depend on what the local coordinators in the Philippines recommend based on urgent need. We are in direct contact with health officers in the provinces that were affected and will be working closely with local professionals and volunteers.

Countless other agencies and groups are organizing relief efforts to give aid and supplies, but what makes our team unique is that we are going there personally to provide much needed care and support. Aside from the medical part of the mission, we will be distributing relief goods such as food, clothing and supplies to help uplift the spirits of many families and provide them with a memorable Christmas.

We have collected donations and pledges in the amount of $83,000. Funds raised are being used right away to bring medical care to the victims.

Even after this mission, recovery and rebuilding the victims’ lives will continue, and it will take years before they get back to normalcy.

Tax deductible donations can be made to Ohana Medical Missions and mailed to P.O. Box 1294, Pearl City, HI., 96872.

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