Release Date: April 26, 2016
BUFFALO, N.Y. – It sounds improbable but some residents of Fontaine, a poor, medically underserved village in rural Haiti, have come to view University at Buffalo medical students and faculty as their primary care providers.
That’s a result of medical missions that students and faculty from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences have been making. Earlier this month, they made their fifth trip to Fontaine led by David Holmes MD, clinical associate professor of family medicine and director of global health education, where they treated 540 patients. A second team, led by Jennifer Corliss, MD, clinical assistant professor of family medicine, went to Honduras, providing care for about 450 patients.
Students and faculty from both teams will share their experiences on April 27 at noon in Butler Auditorium in Farber Hall on the UB South Campus.
Free and open to the public, the event is aimed toward promoting volunteer medical opportunities available to UB students. Media are invited to attend. For press arrangements, contact Ellen Goldbaum at 716-645-4605 or on-site at 716-771-9255.
Fontaine is about five hours north of Port-au-Prince and while a clinic is less than a 30-minute drive away, most people in the village have no way to get there. When students and faculty from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo arrived in town earlier this month, they managed to see some patients they had previously treated.
Continuity of Care
“I really liked this trip because I got to see a number of patients that I had treated on earlier trips there,” said Vinny Polsinelli, a third-year medical student who started the UB medical trips to Haiti.
While an undergraduate at Siena College, he started traveling to Haiti with Friends of Fontaine, the nonprofit organization that built the first school in the village. He now serves on its board.
“There was a day on this trip where every patient I saw was a follow-up patient,” said Polsinelli. “I knew them and their medical histories.
“UB students and faculty have basically become the primary care physicians for the people of Fontaine and surrounding villages,” Polsinelli said. “We go to the same village twice a year and do our best to meet the primary care needs of the people during the limited amount of time that we are there, so we manage to provide some continuity of care.”
Seventeen medical students, one UB medical resident, three UB faculty members, a UB office manager and an ultrasound technician from Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo who brought a portable ultrasound machine, went on the Haiti trip.
“The ultrasound assistance was very helpful, allowing us to do prenatal checks and to evaluate abdominal pain, genitourinary problems and other conditions,” said Holmes.
The UB team also brought eyeglasses for near-sighted and far-sighted patients.
“Our students really enjoyed seeing the smiles on patient’s faces when they realized how much better they could see,” Holmes said.
In Honduras, the UB team partnered with Shoulder to Shoulder, a non-governmental organization that works toward improving the region’s sustainability in health, education and nutrition.
Patrick Salemme, a first-year student at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said that many of the patients they saw throughout the week had problems that originated in poverty, such as the lack of transportation, cultural and language barriers and apathy from the government.
“The biggest thing that surprised me was how difficult it is to truly understand poverty and how it affects someone's overall health,” he said. For example, the team saw babies suffering from spina bifida, in which the spinal cord doesn’t develop properly. “Spina bifida is something that you would not typically see in someone with proper prenatal care. In regions with little access to care, these diseases will develop and cause more suffering among the poor.”
His classmate, Grace Trompeter, made a similar observation. “Almost all of the children I examined complained of headaches, particularly when walking home from school, uphill, in the afternoon, in 100 degree heat. Inquiring how much water they consumed, we quickly realized most of these kids were chronically dehydrated.”
She added that while the team did its best to impress upon parents and children the importance of drinking water, they also were aware that getting access to clean, safe drinking water was going to be problematic.
New roofs overhead
And while health care was the primary goal, members of the UB team provided other kinds of assistance through a home repair project the village leaders had begun.
“Many people in the village live in homes that are falling into disrepair,” said Holmes. “Among other things, their thatched roofs leak, a big problem in the rainy season. Our students did some fundraising before the trip, which helped pay for two homes to get new metal roofs. We also paid for a new roof on the one-room school house in a nearby village. Some of our students took some time off from the medical mission to help the Haitian workers with these repairs.”
Holmes directs the Department of Family medicine’s Global Health Education Program, which facilitates experiences for medical students and graduate trainees who want to work with patients in medically underserved areas of the world or with refugees in Buffalo. He also oversees the department’s focused global health scholars track for select residents.