March 4-12, 2016

A group of 32 volunteers representing the Hands for Health Foundation and RVUCOM traveled to Guatemala to provide primary health care to people living in the Lake Atitlan region, about 3 hours southwest from the capital, Guatemala City.  Fourteen RVU medical students were accompanied by faculty and other health care professionals.  The trip was coordinated and directed by RVU faculty Dr. Camille Bentley.   Other healthcare providers included Drs. Douglass Crawford, Lia Fiallos, Philip Sullivan and Jennifer Goodfred as well as Registered nurses Barbara Crawford, Michelle Jarrin and Diane Posada.

We were guests of SOSEP (Secretaria de Obras Sociales de La Esposa del Presidente), a humanitarian outreach group organized and run by the first Lady of Guatemala, Patricia Marroquín.     Members of SOSEP in each area, helps to notify and organize the sites for us to work, provide us with water, lunch, translators and security.  This year the accommodations were very spacious, and they had everything set up to include tables, chairs, privacy tarps and even hand sanitizer.   Through their organization we are able to bring in all the meds and supplies necessary to provide good medical care to the people we serve.   Working with SOSEP, I choose the sites every year, trying to focus on the more rural areas, 2 or more hours from any hospital.   

This year we visited the 4 following places; San Antonio Palopó, Chuabaj , Sololà, and San José Chacayà.  3 of the towns were in the department of Sololá, while one further away in the department of Quiche.   We could have easily spent 2 days in Chuabaj, which was a new site, and furthest away from the national hospital in Sololá.  Many of the people spoke Spanish, but about 35 % spoke their indigenous K’iche’, Kaqchikel or Tz’utujil which always proves to be a challenge for both us as well as the Spanish speaking people there.  I would expect that over time, the number of those only speaking the Mayan languages will diminish.  

As a group we provided health care to almost 600 people living in these rural villages.  About a third the group were women over the age of 18, another 1/3 adult males, and the final third boys and girls under the age of 18.   It seems that we are seeing more and more adults on our outreach trips.  In addition to primary care services our team provided over 75 pairs of reading glasses, provided additional dental services (fillings, extractions and cleanings and fluoride treatments to over 100 people, OMM and Ultrasound diagnostics to over 100 patients.   Cases were varied, with a mix of infectious as well as chronic diseases.  Many complaints were of common origin, which is very good for those students that lack knowledge of pathology or have much clinical experience.   We also distributed sun glasses, soaps and shampoos, shoes, OTC pain meds, antacids and vitamins to as many people as possible.  We will plan to return to these same places next year.  In fact, as medical director I am strongly considering a longer outreach for upper classmen with some Spanish Immersion, with openings for underclassmen during their spring break.  This will allow us to provide more care.    Also, SOSEP has offered to assist us with the transportation costs to the sites, if we could stay longer and provide more care.  

Once again the US station was a great success, under the tutelage of senior and Global Track   student Samuel Plesner, many in the group were able to practice and learn how to work and use an US on such a mission.   More than 45 patients were ultrasound and over 100 photos were taken and stored showing various structures, pathology, fetuses.  It was certainly a highlight of the trip for all, and I feel a valuable tool while there.   A number of US guided injections were also performed.

During the work week, the group stayed at Hotel Dos Mundos, in Panajachel, a tourist area on Lake Atitlan.      Rooms were very clean and comfortable, with hot showers and electricity most of the time we were there.  In Guatemala you have to be very vigilant not to get Traveler’s Diarrhea.  Despite this only 2 participants actually got sick and had to stay behind 1-2 of the work days.   Everyone else stayed healthy enough to be active with the group the entire week.   The hotel was located 1-2 hours from the work sites.  The weather in March is excellent for this type of work.    We all fit just right in our very own RVU turbo Chicken Bus.    

On the weekend, we stayed in Antigua, an historic landmark, and original capital of the country. This allowed for some more cultural experiences for the group.  Students got to see Mayan ruins in Iximché and many were able to climb Pacaya volcano.     The cost for this trip with airfare is about $2000, remaining still the most cost effective for the students that we provide. Though it seems that prices once again have continued to go up every year.   

Overall, this was an excellent trip and great medical learning experience for the students. We look forward to our return in March of 2017.

Camille Bentley, DO

Director and Coordinator, Guatemala Outreach

Chair, Tracks and Special Programs Department