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Global NGO’s Medical Volunteers Teaching Better Health To Underserved Communities

Millwod, Virginia, August 17, 2011

Project HOPE will honor the thousands of inspiring American doctors and nurses on Friday who for decades have brought vitally needed emergency medical treatment and long-term health education to lift up the needy in the developing world.

“Countless lives have been saved and the quality of thousands of others improved by programs which began on the SS HOPE, an icon of American humanity -- and, in the jet age, developed into pioneering programs all over the world,” said John P. Howe III, M.D., President and CEO of Project HOPE.

While its operations are varied and complex, Project HOPE programs in more than 35 countries and five continents honor a simple mantra :  help others to help themselves – which is also the theme of the third annual World Humanitarian Day, observed by the United Nations and over 500 national and international NGOs.

The Virginia-based organization is known the world over for quickly deploying medical volunteers from top U.S. hospitals and research institutions to the epicenter of natural disasters.  But Project HOPE also stays on, long after the initial storm has passed, teaching sustainable health solutions, building medical infrastructure and training local doctors and nurses to help their own people, years into the future.

In Africa, HOPE volunteers are striving to help local hospitals reach the ambitious targets outlined in the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  Project HOPE has established health education programs in Mozambique, Namibia, Malawi and South Africa and has conducted humanitarian aid missions with the U.S. Navy to Ghana and Liberia.

World Humanitarian Day

“HIV/AIDS is a diagnosis we see here in Cameroon and there is a strong stigma against HIV positive patients in the villages,” said HOPE volunteer Linda Jo Burt of Utah, who worked with patients and trained staff at the Maria Rosa Nsisim Hospital in the capital, Yaounde.

“Patients are reluctant to disclose or accept their HIV positive status and, in some cases, they stop taking their anti-retroviral medication to hide their condition, which inevitably gets worse,” said Burt, a 40-year veteran of nursing in surgery, intensive care, orthopedics and nursing administration. 

Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) first crossed the globe on humanitarian missions in 1958 when the first peacetime hospital ship, the SS HOPE, brought vital medicines to people from Brazil to Vietnam. Since then, more than 5,000 HOPE doctors and nurses have built healthier communities and provided disaster relief, most recently in Japan, where medical volunteers continue to assist people affected by the earthquake and tsunami  that struck the northeastern coast in March.  

World Humanitarian Day

“It was devastating to see the destruction caused by the tsunami in my home country,” said Dr. Takenori Watanabe,  a Japanese-born physician and resident of Arizona who assisted patients in shelters in the Miyagi Prefecture.

“The Japanese people are extremely resilient and determined to rebuild their lives, but they needed help quickly and I really wanted to be involved.”

World Humanitarian Day

In Haiti, HOPE medical director, Kerry Quealy, a Durant Fellow from Massachusetts General Hospital, was shocked by the latest cholera outbreak during her eight-week mission.

“From the start, the cholera situation in Haiti was much worse than I anticipated.  I was overwhelmed by the large volume of patients in our cholera treatment center. I was amazed to see the numbers were significantly higher than they were with the original outbreak.  It was truly a crisis situation.” 

Ms. Quealy said the most memorable moments of her Haiti experience was witnessing the interaction between patients worn down by cholera and the struggles of life since last year’s earthquake.

“When a patient does not have a family member present with them, a stranger from the next cot over will take care of them as if they are family.  I have seen the most incredible acts of kindness in these small tents,” said Ms. Quealy.

World Humanitarian Day

Faye Pyles is a registered nurse and head medical director of HOPE’s current mission aboard the U.S. Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, which has sailed throughout Latin America for the past four months providing medical assistance to tens of thousands of people. She says even after many years in humanitarian medicine, the joy of seeing a child receive medical care that would not otherwise be available to him, is immeasurable.

“Angel is just four years old and had Polydactyly, or eight digits on his hand and foot. When I told his mother that we would be able to get her son scheduled for the surgery onboard the USNS Comfort, I thought she was going to cry,” said Ms. Pyles, who had examined Angel at the Los Morenas medical site in Guatemala.

“I am so excited the family was able to find transportation to the ship to have this surgery done,” said Ms. Pyles. “It’s such a simple surgery that will change his life, especially before he starts school.”              

One of the benefits of Project HOPE’s collaboration with the U.S. Navy on annual humanitarian missions, says Ms. Pyles, is that the medical team and surgical units reduce waiting lists for surgeries in the countries visited on the mission.

Almost 1,000 surgeries have been performed on the Comfort during the mission to Central and South America and the Caribbean since April.  

About Project HOPE
Founded in 1958, Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is dedicated to providing lasting solutions to health crises, with the mission of helping people to help themselves. Identifiable to many by the SS HOPE, the world’s first peacetime hospital ship, Project HOPE now conducts land-based medical training and health education programs in 35 countries across five continents.

Media Contact

Geraldine Carroll  Tel. 540.257.3746  gcarroll@projecthope.org

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