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Chambersburg health works spread a message of prevention in Bolivia

November 09, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Bolivian renderings of The Last Supper have a slightly different menu than the spread featured in Leonardo da Vinci's fresco. A loaf of bread is replaced by a guinea pig, Chambersburg Hospital Chaplain Paul L. Yeun said.

From Sept. 20 to Oct. 6, a team of 17 people, most of them Summit Health health care professionals, traveled to El Alto, a city of about 650,000 forming the periphery of La Paz, to set up a clinic and teach the people there that an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.

"The clinic was built, but never used. We had to equip the hospital with everything. It was empty," said Yeun, who led the team.

The members of the Summit Health Medical Mission Team each filled one of their two suitcases for the trip with 50 pounds of medical supplies to help stock the hospital, said Ali Lensbower, one of eight nurses on the mission.

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Dr. Elizabeth George, the nurses and medical technicians saw 703 patients and filled 1,265 prescriptions during their stay, Yeun said. The team raised $6,500 from churches, individuals and organizations for the clinic, Yeun said.

Though the team has left, the commitment is not over, Yeun said.

"We have financed one nurse and one doctor" for $400 a month for two years, he said. For that amount of money, the nurse will see patients daily, with the doctor visiting twice a week, he said.

Surrounding La Paz, El Alto is more than 13,000 feet above sea level, which at first left them gasping for breath, nurse Susan Pape said.

"It was like a marathon if you walked up two flights of steps," she said.

"The UV (ultraviolet) rays were reeking havoc with their skin and eyes," Pape said of medical problems common among the people of El Alto. The team handed out sunglasses and ski lotions to help reduce and prevent those health issues.

Team members also saw patients suffering the effects of old injuries.

"They don't run their cars and buses like we do in the USA," Pape said. "If you're in the way, you're going to get hurt."

"And the children like to jump on the back of moving vehicles to catch a ride," social worker Emory Oyler said.

"The focus of the medical mission this time was community health teaching. Prevention of illness," Lensbower said. Nurse Minna Pulgar said that included oral hygiene, hand-washing, prenatal care, nutrition, cancer prevention, child and spousal abuse, childhood diarrhea and physical therapy, Pulgar said.

Safe water for drinking and washing is a critical issue in a part of the world where water-borne illnesses are prevalent. Diarrhea, one of the biggest killers of children in the Third World, can be treated inexpensively, and microorganisms in water can be killed with something readily available in El Alto - sunlight.

The UV rays that damage skin and eyes can also kill those microorganisms, simply by placing a clear plastic bottle of water in the sun for eight hours, Pulgar said.

The team members said they found the Bolivians eager and receptive students and generous hosts. While there, the members got to dine on some of the local cuisine, including the aforementioned guinea pig, which many Bolivians raise for food and often serve to guests.

"We ate the guinea pig, and it was very good," Pulgar said. She said it tasted like chicken.

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