In November, 40 years ago, Medical Teams International founder Ron Post sat in his living room, watching devastating footage on his television of the Cambodia Killing Fields. He saw a young girl dying and thought of his own daughter sitting beside him. He knew he had to do something. Shortly after, he boarded a plane with a group of volunteers and the Medical Teams legacy began.
I started my own career in public health soon after, in the mid-1980’s, at Wheaton College. During this time, the global health community was focused on fulfilling the Alma Ata Declaration, which identified primary health care as achieving “Health for All.”
I had the opportunity to spend several months in 3 small, remote villages in Cameroon talking to the community and researching what I had learned and the implications. Both my studies and my time in West Africa profoundly impacted my life and shaped my foundation in public health — recognizing the critical importance of communities owning their own health and the need to build programs on their indigenous beliefs, attitudes and understanding of disease and how to prevent illness.
In today’s interconnected world, these concepts are still true but we now have a better understanding of how other factors like poverty, climate change, persistent gender inequality, violence and harmful cultural practices can profoundly influence the health of individuals.
Over the years, Medical Teams International has implemented programs to improve the overall health of communities, placing emphasis on equipping local health facilities and building trust in health systems so that they will thrive when we are gone.
We have trained hundreds of Community Health Workers, who empower their communities and refugee settlements to improve their own health, through training on the importance of vaccinations, prenatal care and disease prevention. Their impact has been profound.
The march toward reaching our collective Sustainable Development Goal of “global health and well-being for all” has made monumental strides, and Medical Teams International has been at the forefront of this work over the decades.
The severity of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS has decreased thanks to the availability of antiretroviral drugs. The number of childhood deaths has reduced by more than half in the last 30 years, and the global maternal mortality rate has declined by 38 percent. Diseases like polio are close to being eradicated. And although there is much work to still be done, we’ve witnessed medical advances in rapid diagnostic tests for malaria and vaccines for contagious infectious diseases like cholera and Ebola, saving many lives.
We’ve grown in how we respond as humanitarian agency over the years, too. Mass displacement of people is at a record high – estimated at 70.8 million – creating increasingly complex contexts in which to provide. Yet we’ve taken advantage of these tremendous opportunities to use holistic approaches in how we respond to people in crisis.
Engaging faith and community leaders across our programs has been a critical component of how Medical Teams meets the needs of refugees across the world. Our level of care has earned us the trust of key partners — like the UNHCR — as we serve as the main implementing partner to screen all refugees coming into Uganda, and the Ministry of Health as we work to prevent the spread of Ebola.
We have also prioritized forging partnerships at the local level to multiply our own efforts here in the Pacific Northwest, where we have the largest fleet of mobile dental vans providing critical dental services to our neighbors through our U.S. programs.
Since our inception, Medical Teams has always been committed to bringing the best of what we have learned about health in stable contexts to people in crisis around the globe. We know that community-based empowerment works, and that real progress is made by the frontline health workers — in refugee clinics, in rural villages and in the midst of epidemics. Our volunteers have been at the center of our story from the very start, and our “can do” attitude continues to propel us forward, to go where we are needed most.
As we reflect on the last 40 years, it is a great honor for me to lead Medical Teams into the next decade, driven by our high calling to dare to love like Jesus and restore wholeness in a hurting world. We have ambitious plans to increase our reach over the next several years so we can go where we are needed most, staying true to our faith and our roots as a responsive and deeply caring organization. As we do so, it is my prayer that our global reputation will be built on a proven track record of helping the most vulnerable to not just survive, but thrive.
You can support Medical Teams International as we begin the next 40 years of healing. Thank you!