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Medical Teams International | Official Blog

Get the latest updates from our programs in the field internationally and here in the United States.  

  • One Filling at a Time

    by Emily Crowe | Oct 09, 2015

    This article, featuring MTI's Mobile Dental program, was originally written by Meghan Taylor and appeared in the September 2015 issue of the Willamette Dental Group's Tooth Talk. Republished with permission.

    by Meghan Taylor

    A hospital emergency room is an all too familiar sight for the Americans who don’t have dental insurance, or have dental care readily available. Even though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has reduced the number of people without medical insurance, the ACA does not require people to have dental coverage which still leaves millions without the means to take care of their oral health. For those with Medicare, dental services are not covered, making it difficult for the elderly to take care of their mouths. According to the American Dental Association, this gap in coverage costs the United States health system two billion dollars a year in preventable dental care. This makes organizations like Medical Teams International (MTI) and their many volunteers vital in providing free or inexpensive treatment to those otherwise unable to receive dental care.


    With so many desperate for treatment, the need for qualified clinicians willing to volunteer their time is even greater. MTI has eleven mobile dental clinics that travel throughout Oregon and Washington caring for patients. The clinics are in such high demand that they are regularly booked out several months. In order to care for these patients, they rely on dentists, hygienists and assistants with hearts for those in need. One such person is Dr. Charles Wagner.

    Two years ago while taking some continuing education at a dental conference in Portland, Wagner saw the MTI van. “I was curious and took the tour of the dental van. After the tour they gave me one of their hats. I kind of want- ed to get involved and the hat sealed the deal.” After signing on to help, he then asked his hygienist Theresa Young and assistant Lisa Gonser to join him on the days he volunteers. “I like doing it with one of our own dental hygienists and assistants as we work well together as a team.”

    For the trio, the day is shorter than a typical work day with Willamette Dental Group (WDG), and is filled entirely with fillings and extractions but Wagner has noticed one difference between his patients at WDG and MTI. “The patients are mostly elderly who do not have dental insurance and do not qualify for OHP. They are the working poor.” MTI-dental-van

    As a hygienist, the day is a bit different for Young. “He does emergency treatment only. I help by taking radiographs and situating patients; sometimes by giving anes- thetic for the doctor.” Gonser’s outlook on the day is different from her colleague’s. “It is just like any day at WDG. The people that you are helping don’t look any different than our patients. [We] are providing the same dental care but only in a small space.” The MTI dental van has two operatories in it with all the supplies necessary for treatment, creating tight spaces for the team to work, but the benefits far outweigh any inconvenience.

    “The most rewarding aspect is that all of the patients are very grateful and don’t hesitate to express that gratitude for the service that you provide for them. When it is all done I feel good knowing I and my team have provided at least one small measure of service for our seniors that sometimes fall between the cracks when it comes to dental care.” Wagner also shows his appreciation for his team by taking them out to lunch afterwards, usually at Red Lobster, as a small token of the gratitude he has for them.

    The gratitude their patients express for seemingly normal procedures has proven to be a challenge for Young in an unusual way. “I see the people in need and wish I could do more for them.”

    For Gonser, the difference between a day at WDG and working on the MTI dental van is in the details. “I really think the difference is how grateful the people are that don’t have the means to get dental or even medical attention. These are people that don’t have anything let alone insurance money or even a warm place to live. These people are grateful for the help.”

    In the end, the team helps people who would have had no other way to be cared for. MTI has facilitated their giving hearts, and something as simple as a single hat started a snow ball effect that has changed the lives of many.

    Do you work in the dental field? Want to volunteer with our Mobile Dental program? Learn more about how you can make an impact!

  • From the field: Need, change in rural Cambodia

    by Tyler Graf | Oct 06, 2015

    Tyler Graf coordinates stories, photos and information about Medical Teams International's development work. In July, he traveled to Cambodia to document the ongoing work there. The following is a first-hand account.

    At a little past noon on a hot and muggy July day, our SUV slowed as a small crowd crossed the road we were traveling down and gathered near a slim concrete sidewalk on the left-hand side.

    It was hard to tell what exactly was going on, as our line of sight was obscured by the growing congregation of spectators. Clearly, something had drawn their collective attention. In a slow procession, they convened on the scene.

    As we neared, at the slow roll of the typical rubbernecker, the gruesome sight came into focus. Two bodies – one slumped, the other sprawled – lay on the side of the two-lane road. A crumpled motorbike rested beside them.

    Cambodia crash victim
    (Photo by Sean Sheridan)
    In Cambodia, the high number of traffic accidents coupled with inadequate ambulance service yield deadly results. Sothay, above, was in a motorbike accident but had the good fortune of being picked up by an MTI-trained EMT. 

    With nothing more to go on, it was immediately evident what had happened – more or less: The two men were riding a motorcycle when it slammed into a truck. On impact, they flew off onto the side of the road, where they now lay. They were motionless.

    There was a strange and sad symmetry to this happening on our route, at a time when we were driving by. We were returning from a morning training session of Cambodian medical professionals. The topic was emergency medical services, commonly referred to as EMS.

    While we tend to take for granted that we, as Americans, can dial 911 when an accident occurs and that an ambulance of trained paramedics will arrive, that’s simply not the case in Cambodia. The country has a very high incidence of traffic accidents, and deaths.

    The scene before us drew that fact sharply into focus. The two men lay there as the crowd looked on. There was no ambulance in sight, not that one would have helped much. In Cambodia, ambulances typically act as little more than taxi services for the critically injured. They can transport someone from point A to point B. What they don’t do is provide much in the way of medical care between the two points.

    Our SUV contained one American EMT along with two medically trained Cambodians, so we stopped the vehicle to assess the scene. It was evident from the outset: there was nothing we could do.

    The men were dead.

    One likely bled out from his injuries. If medical professionals had arrived earlier, they might have been able to stanch the bleeding. The other man looked like he’d died on impact.

    The stark scenario is illustrative of Cambodia’s need for better-trained emergency medical professionals capable of responding to emergencies when they happen. According to a 2013 World Health Organization estimate, more than 2,400 people a year die in traffic accidents on Cambodian roads. The numbers will only increase as Cambodia develops better roads that can transport more people.

    That needs to change. And it will, because of your donations, support and prayers.

    That support provides training for first responders on how to assess victims of traffic accidents and then quickly transport them to medical facilities. Many treatable emergency conditions are neither recognized nor addressed at Cambodian hospitals as a result of the current lack of training.

    The doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers who are trained take to the new knowledge like fish to water. For them, it’s a revelation. They learn how to assess a patient’s condition, conduct triage, and open blocked airways, along with other essential medical techniques. Once they’ve mastered the techniques, they train others. It's working.

    That was evident one night near the Thai border, when a young man named Sothay slammed into the side of a car while riding his motorbike to a friend's house. As he lay bleeding on the ground, unconscious to the world, someone called the local ambulance. As it turned out, the ambulance driver had undergone training and knew how to properly respond.

    The ambulance driver found Sothay, assessed his injuries, dressed them as best he could, and then transported him to the local hospital, where he stayed with the young man. With few health workers left at the hospital at night, the ambulance driver tended to Sothay himself.

    Another doctor I talked to raved about what he’d learned, saying it transformed how he treated emergency patients, and not just accident victims. His name is Dr. Chea, and he practices medicine in rural Cambodia, near the Thai border. 

    He recalled when a mother brought him a 25-day-old baby boy suffering from bronchitis.

    By the time the baby had reached him, the baby’s body was blue and he was having trouble breathing. The baby’s mother was completely beside herself, convinced that her baby was dying. She was distraught and crying, Dr. Chea said.

    He assessed the baby’s condition and then delicately opened the airway to directly supply oxygen through gentle CPR. Soon, the baby started breathing on his own. Dr. Chea attributed his ability to bring the baby back from the brink to the training he received.

    “It is very important to know this topic – how to open an airway,” Dr. Chea said. “I’m very excited that MTI is providing this training.”

    Still, there’s more work to be done, as evidenced by the two men left dying by the side of the road. That’s not to discount the amazing work that has taken place, and the amazing work that’s still to come. It’s just to say that progress takes time.

    After all, Cambodia is a country in the midst of growing pains. How easy it is to forget that only 35 years ago the Khmer Rouge was in power. The despotic regime led by Pol Pot murdered the country’s intellectuals and forced others to the countryside to live a purely agrarian existence, resulting in millions of deaths. It wasn’t until 1998 that the last remnants of the Khmer Rouge were defeated entirely.

    Your support ensures that rebuilding efforts continue. Cambodia has taken huge strides to develop into a modern country despite horrific setbacks. The country deserves to be a place where medical professionals save sick babies, and where emergency care is an expectation. 

  • Syrian Spotlight: Fighting to stay together

    by Emily Crowe | Oct 01, 2015

    As more and more Syrian refugees are making the treacherous trek to Europe, Medical Teams International has begun sending supplies to Greece to help families survive. Amidst grueling journeys, refugees are finding themselves trapped in dangerous conditions with no way to meet basic needs. Meet one vulnerable family searching for a safe place to call home:


    Six months pregnant, the treacherous journey is frighteningly dangerous for Ahmad and his wife- crossing oceans in small boats, walking miles by foot and surviving without

    Make an impact:
    Right now, every donation to our Syrian Refugee Fund is DOUBLED. 

    access to basic sanitation and healthcare is a dangerous proposition for anyone, especially a pregnant woman.

    Only two days before we met them, their two-year old son fell on the mountain and broke his arm. He received medical treatment but needs an operation- and has no medication for the pain. 

    Camp conditions will only worsen as winter (and rains) begin- filling streets with dirty, stagnant water- and camp capacities are increasingly strained.

    Worst of all, after surviving the deadly sea journey together, his family now risks being torn apart: Ahmad's entire family is from Syria, but the officials processing his papers claim he is from Iraq.

    While his wife and children have been fast-tracked (Syrian papers receive priority), he is unable to leave the camp without registration. As long as they are trapped in the camp, his young son with the broken arm has no access to treatment or pain medication.

    Pregnant, Ahmad's wife must risk her and her unborn child's life to seek safety. After falling down the mountain, their youngest son (right, wearing his arm sling) needs surgery to fix his broken arm but there is no medication in the camp to lessen his pain.

    As winter approaches, Ahmad's family will face freezing temperatures and with only the clothes on their back to protect them. This, combined with poor sanitation and overfilled camps, is a recipe for pneumonia, hypothermia and diarrhea.

    We are praying that his papers will soon be processed and that this family will be able to soon find safety. We also pray that our supplies will be able to impact as many lives as possible- maintaining refugees' dignity and protecting precious lives during this difficult journey.

    Your support provides relief for Ahmad's family and thousands just like them. Please help: pray with us that families will be able to survive grueling journeys, and that fighting in Syria will finally find an end. Advocate and share their story on FacebookInstagram or Twitter- together, WE can make a difference. Consider donating or holding a fundraiser for Syrian refugees with your church or school. 

  • Sick, desperate and soon freezing: Syrian refugees in Europe

    by Emily Crowe | Oct 01, 2015

    The fighting in Syria seems to have no end- and families trapped in deteriorating camp conditions or desperate for a stable home are risking everything to find safety. As the crisis worsens, refugees are facing even greater risks to find safer lives for their families. When nearby settlements fail to provide this, families are forced to make a difficult decision: Stay in the camps, or make the grueling, dangerous journey to find new lives in Europe. 

    Father, Ahmad, and his family. They lost their infant, relatives, and home to the war. Only days before, their young son (on the right) fell and broke his arm. There is no pain medication or doctor to perform the surgery he needs to heal. Authorities will not let Ahmad through, so his family must wait for paperwork to be processed before they can continue their journey. 

    Refugees are giving everything up to be "smuggled" into Greece- a sea journey that has taken the lives of countless children and torn families apart. Upon arrival, refugees must wait for registration before they can move onward and complete the long, grueling trek to their final destinations in Europe.

    Amidst its own economic crisis, Greece's resources are severely strained- in some camps designed for only 200, hundreds or thousands are trying desperately to survive while they await registration. Without adequate sanitation or food, and winter quickly approaching, camps are becoming ticking time bombs of disaster. With 5,000 new refugees arriving in Greece every single day, and the inflow of vulnerable people increasing, specifically pregnant women, children and the elderly, an immediate response is absolutely necessary.

    Shipments of "dignity" hygiene kits protect women from preventable disease and maintain the health to care for their children. With freezing temperatures approaching and families unable to afford winter clothes, jackets and sleeping bags help stave off hypothermia and pneumonia.

    Living on dirt with no drainage and poor sanitation access, streets are filled with stagnant, trash-littered water. 

    Pregnant mothers, injured children, and elderly who have lost everything during this crisis need our help. Without relief, the coming months will be filled with even more heartbreak.

    These supplies are key to providing families with dignity- and the basic necessities to survive- on their journey to find safer lives. YOU are providing strength and safety to these families, offering a strong, comforting hand and walking alongside them on their dangerous journeys.

    Want to help? Please pray with us that families will be able to survive these grueling journeys, and that fighting in Syria will finally find an end. Share their stories of need with others on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter- together, WE can make a difference. Consider donating or holding a fundraiser for Syrian refugees with your church or school. 

  • Myanmar Flooding: Thank you for your support!

    by Emily Crowe | Sep 28, 2015

    Last month, the world watched as the worst flooding in years swept across Myanmar. Villages were forced to flee as flood waters destroyed dams and submerged entire homes. Families lost everything-- food, homes, medicine and livestock.

    A country still reeling from decades of political "closure," assistance was absolutely vital to ensure vulnerable, displaced families had access to basic necessities like food and safe drinking water. Your support went directly to these families-- providing emergency relief kits, meals and tools for water purification.


    Families who had to watch their homes be swept away in flood water, who would be starving without help-- were not alone. You were there, making sure parents could feed their children and protecting babies from preventable disease.

    River levels continue to rise as monsoon season rages on. But-- thanks to you-- families are receiving the care they need to survive.


    In addition to emergency disaster response, Medical Teams International helps run long-term community health programs in Myanmar. Learn more about our work in Myanmar. Want to help save lives, even before the next disaster strikes? Donations for our Disaster Response program allow us to prepare and respond the instant a disaster strikes. 

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