Tue | Oct 22, 2019

Alliance of Jamaican and American Humanitarians medical mission impacts Jamaica

Published:Saturday | June 22, 2019 | 12:32 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston/Gleaner Writer
Joan Crawford McDonald, president of the Alliance of Jamaican and American Humanitarians.
Joan Crawford McDonald, president of the Alliance of Jamaican and American Humanitarians.

Ninety-seven doctors, pharmacists, registered nurses, other medical personnel and support staff descended on the island on June 9, and for seven days they impacted many in the parishes of St Ann, St Mary, Kingston, and St Catherine.

At the Port Maria Hospital in St Mary, a team of ophthalmologists and support staff did 60 eye surgeries, the majority of which were to remove cataracts.

The Gleaner caught up with president of the Alliance of Jamaican and American Humanitarians (AOJAH), Joan Crawford McDonald – the non-profit responsible for the outreach at the Lions Club Civic Centre in Old Harbour.

Crawford, a retired nurse living in California, had high praises for the enthusiastic team of volunteers she worked with, as she said they were excited to give of their service to the sick in Jamaica.

Medical equipment

Singling out Gloria Blackburn, vice-president of medical, she said her tremendous support in ensuring the medical equipment gets donated for the mission was a major help.

Crawford was accompanied by 86 medical personnel in Old Harbour. The group had their hands full with the more than 600 patients who turned out to be treated. Among the services offered were eye care and medical check-ups. Those with conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure received a year’s worth of medications. the eye patients got drops and glasses.

Crawford, in sharing about the outreach in Jamaica, said it is a multifaceted mission which started with laparoscopic surgery at the St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital.

“My team of physicians and nurses taught the doctors and nurses how to perform and support laparoscopy surgery. We also donated the equipment to them,” she said, adding that she also had a group of obstetrics gynaecologists who went to the Jubilee and Spanish Town hospitals to train physicians in laparoscopic surgery.

The paediatric unit of the St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital also received a boost as paediatric emergentologist, Dr Janet Semple Hess, with the assistance of the AOJAH organisation, bought and donated a point-of-care testing machine for St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital. This, she said, will go a long way in saving the lives of premature babies.

Explaining the importance of the very expensive machine, Crawford said it takes too long for the results to come back from the lab, but with the machine, results are instantaneous, making it easier to diagnose what’s going on with the baby.

AOJAH, which started in 2010 doing annual medical and education missions to Jamaica, has so far spent millions of dollars on equipment and medical supplies for the mission.

2020 mission

The non-profit has big plans for their 2020 mission, as Crawford said an added element will be gastroenterology.

“Jamaica has a big problem with colon cancer and its screening. Gastroenterologists, physicians and surgeons that do the colonoscopy screening and surgeries came here hoping we could do colonoscopy, but I was a little challenged getting the equipment,” said Crawford. She added that the doctors are enthused. The plan, she said, is to work on the equipment so the programme can be set up next year.

“Hopefully, we can impact colon cancer in Jamaica. We believe in outcomes, so we collect data and we look at outcomes,” she said.

Crawford, in stating how expensive colonoscopy screening can be in Jamaica, said the programme for next year is being worked on with local sponsor, Dr Ian Titus out of St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital and the oversees gastroenterolist that came this year.

“He asked about the screening as he realises there is a high incident of colon cancer and people are not getting screened. If you catch it early, it can save your life, so hopefully we will get that,” she said.

SCHOLARSHIPS

Apart from the medical mission, AOJAH has also given support to education by awarding scholarships to one Calabar High School student for four years, who has been accepted at The University of the West Indies, to the tune of US$1,500 per year, and five HEART students with US$500 each for the year. School supplies and backpacks were also given to select basic schools.

Looking ahead, Crawford and her team don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon as she said volunteerism is a passion for her and her team. Growing up and watching her mother always helping many and being a registered nurse for years, she said it’s just her nature to help others.

“I know the struggles in Jamaica. Some days it gets overwhelming. My planning team works for a year to make it happen, but considering where I’m coming from, my life could have been very different, so I have to give back,” she said.

Crawford also expressed appreciation for her entire team and for their work in Jamaica.