Over the past 40 years of practicing Dentistry, in addition to my practice in Cobourg, I have really enjoyed being a part of 24 Medical teams that have worked in other countries.

moebus1Bill and Shirley MoebusShirley, my wife, has been on five of these trips with me as an assistant or organizer, and she has coordinated and escorted awareness trips for Cobourg high school students, sponsored by The Rotary Club of Cobourg, to observe and work in schools and a hospital in Kingston, Jamaica as well. On two of the trips I have taught and demonstrated to graduating students at the dental faculty of The University of Addis Abba, in Ethiopia, but on most of the trips I performed essential surgical dentistry in remote villages in under-privileged countries.

Although much work occurs on the actual trip, much planning and gathering of supplies is needed ahead of time. Team members must be selected and travel plans made.  Arrangements must be made with an organizer in the host country to supply drivers, security and interpreters, and the locations we go to. These people are paid by our medical team. Next, we fundraise to purchase supplies in the destination country to support their economy, things like antibiotics and other medical supplies, food to distribute to patients, and extra school supplies and books in the local language. We collect, repackage and pack the medical/ dental supplies donated in Canada to reduce weight. Clothing and shoes, school supplies, etc. that have been sourced by team members can then be packed in empty spaces in the huge hockey bags that serve as luggage.

Appropriate inoculations and pre-training for conditions on the trip are all ensured for the team. The Cobourg community and The Rotary Club of Cobourg have always generously supported the team members from this area with whom I have travelled over the years, both financially and with supplies.

Medical teams, typically with 16 members from all over Canada, are all very similar.  Many medical professionals - nurses, physicians, pharmacists and dentists - as well as many essential non-medical support personal, use the skills learned in Canada to help others in foreign lands. Not only is the team effective in relieving immediate pain and suffering while there, they also teach health care to patients and families to reduce the many aliments they suffer. Those with on-going problems are given instruction in the management of illnesses or pains so they may be self-reliant.

moebus2Patients waiting in Da Nang, VietnamOn my actual trips, from the Dominican Republic to Ecuador, from Vietnam to Ethiopia, or Belize and Jamaica to Peru and Honduras accommodations for team members do not vary much. Cost is a factor so being able to adapt to cold showers, very basic meals and shared accommodations is a necessity. We go out each day to a different prearranged location and set up the sight. There is no fresh water or electrical power at the small school or church where we are usually sent, so we scrounge for tables, chairs and benches that can be moved to the shade. But, there is always a line of 150 patients waiting to start the day, some who have walked for 8 hours . The nurses screen the patients and send them to to the medical or dental area. After they are seen, they go to the pharmacy for medicines, food supplies that we buy in their country, and clothes that we bring from Canada. Time is spent with them as well on instruction in basic hygiene, and other day to day health practices.

moebus3My son Andrew and I in EcuadorIn the course of of a day's work, each of the 5 physicians typically see 35 to 40 patients who generally have pain related to hard manual labour, worms and skin diseases.  Dentists do strictly surgery, and generally see 20 to 30 patients a day, extracting 45 to 60 teeth. This is done with no power or lights. For patients with more serious problems we have our drivers or translators arrange for them, at our expense, to be seen at the closest hospital which is often limited in its ability to treat complicated cases. Over the course of 10 days we usually see around1800 patients.  

One location comes to mind that would represent the norm. We drove up the side of a mountain one day for well over an hour. The road was really a bumpy, rutted path along the side of a shallow river which we crossed numerous times - a ride that Disney World could only imitate. We finally arrived at an opening in the forest that had recently been cleared. We set up the clinic, and about 180 people just literally emerged from the forest to be seen.  

moebus4Transportation in HondurasTaking our work to these remote communities affords us many insights into day-to-day life in communities very different from our own. People surviving in a community built on a city dump, farmers coping with the effects of altitude on the high plains in the Andes, people dodging congested city traffic in South East Asia, students learning to become dentists with inadequate equipment and supplies, or surgeons in operating rooms badly ventilated and in need of cleaning and painting. In one mountainous location, for example, set among coffee trees the size of apple trees, we learned that men hand pick only the ripe coffee beans, extremely difficult work. Each has a basket that holds about three cups of beans. They are paid about $6.50 a basket and can manage to pick six baskets a day. Since this seasonal work, it is their only source of income for the year - about $1000. And these are the lucky ones with jobs.

As medical personnel, it is often the children with medical conditions that are immediately treated here in Canada when they are infants that saddens or maddens us most. One such condition is called Tetrology of Fallot, a hole in the heart of new born babies. It is a very debilitating condition to grow up with as these people have very low oxygen in their blood system which leads to an extremely sedentary, unproductive life.

moebus5Drs. Lorna McDougal and Sheelagh Kemp from Toronto Hospital for Sick Children working in Addis AbbaIn Cusco, Peru, the local Hospital had assembled a list of about 150 children of varying ages that need the surgery. The other conditions that would be seen were clubbed feet, cleft palates, numerous eye problems as well as various terminal medical conditions that could have been treated earlier.  

But thanks to Rotary, no Polio has ever been seen.  

On these trips as a Rotarian, I have seen many Rotary projects in very remote areas. It could be a new school, a medical clinic, a water well, a water system or latrines to name a few. It made me feel really proud to be a Rotarian.

In closing I must say it has been a privilege to be part of these medical teams. It is the look of gratitude in the eyes of these people we help and educate when they know that somebody up here cares that truly makes these trips extremely rewarding.  

Bill Moebus.