At Medical Teams, we talk a lot about “providing life-saving medical care.” But we also know that can be hard to picture, especially thousands of miles away from where care is happening. No matter what country our programs are in, we generally focus on three main areas: providing direct medical care, supporting clinics with equipment and training, and empowering communities.

Today, we’re going to break down the first part of our core service package: providing direct medical care. Read on to see what the “medical” in Medical Teams really looks like!

What is life-saving medical care?

The care we provide is often basic in the places we serve, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t life-saving. We’re working in places where people have little to no other access to care. In those situations, something as simple as dehydration can be deadly. When diseases like malaria, or lack of medical check-ups for a pregnant mother, are factored in, the circumstances can very quickly become dire for thousands of people.

In some places, it’s relatively easy to call the doctor or even reach for a bottle of Advil when sick or hurt. And that’s not to mention the variety of check-ups, vaccines, and other preventative care many people receive in childhood. That may be the case where you live. But often, the people we serve have few resources available to them. They’ve been forced to make the difficult decision to leave home by violence or desperate economic situations, and don’t have the kind of access to care others might.

That’s where we come in. Dr. Cecilia Lopez, one of Medical Teams’ health advisors, says, “Medical Teams has a very important role in providing primary health care to the most vulnerable populations where we work.”

Dr. Cecilia adds,

“We save lives by providing treatment for those in need and promoting the prevention of diseases in affected populations.”

Here are just a few kinds of medical care we provide for the people we serve in hard-to-reach, overlooked places.

Primary health care

A woman receives a blood test in a clinic in Colombia. Photo by Lina Hernandez.

Primary health care is a catch-all term for the kind of one-off visits everyone needs at the doctor now and then. Sometimes, it’s an emergency. In those cases — when someone is wounded, a child is gravely ill, or someone is non-responsive — we focus on stabilizing the patient. Depending on the country’s context and our programs there, we may be able to refer them to secondary care or take further steps ourselves.

But generally, especially in our established clinics, we provide the same kinds of services clinics anywhere might. If someone’s ankle hurts, a cut is infected, or someone has a persistent cough, they come to us for a general health check-up.

We also implement what’s called integrated management of childhood illnesses as a part of our primary health care. It’s an approach that works to care for children from a holistic perspective, with the goal of reducing deaths from preventable causes and promoting healthy development for children under 5.

Maternal and newborn health

Another important aspect of our medical care in our country programs is our emphasis on maternal and newborn health. We follow the requirements set out by the United Nations Population Fund’s minimum initial service package for sexual and reproductive health in crisis situations. The service package outlines a series of critical activities that save lives, particularly for women and children. We care for mothers and babies throughout the entire reproductive process: from family planning to post-birth. That means mothers have access to prenatal care, which includes check-ups, supplements, and education. Then, we also make sure mothers have a skilled birth attendant present for their delivery. If their delivery becomes complicated, we provide emergency obstetrics care or organize a referral to a specialized hospital. After birth, mothers and babies are encouraged to come back for regular check-ups and follow-up care.

Additionally, maternal health includes caring for the reproductive health of a mother. We provide education and resources for family planning. We also counsel and support women through education about sexual and gender-based violence.

Preventative children’s health

A Medical Teams staff member listens to a child’s heartbeat during a check-up. Photo by Dr. Maram Abdallah.

Preventative children’s health is a kind of medical care you’re likely familiar with! Depending on the country, our providers help prevent illness before it starts through regular immunizations. Children receive vaccines for common diseases in our clinics, with priority for all the vaccines on the country’s calendar. In addition, when we face epidemics of diseases like cholera or measles, we help keep children healthy through mass vaccination campaigns.

Non-communicable diseases

One area that may be under-appreciated when considering what medical care looks like in a refugee or migrant context are non-communicable diseases. Non-communicable diseases are diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or other chronic conditions. It’s hard to imagine how challenging it would be to have a long-term disease without regular access to care.

That’s why we emphasize non-communicable disease care in our primary health care clinics. Helping people navigate their chronic conditions can dramatically improve their quality of life. From regular insulin shots to education about salt intake, many of the people we serve are able to recover their health through small but impactful steps.

Nutrition services

A team member does a home visit for a mother with twins in Tanzania. Photo by Suhaila Stanthon Thawer.

Another aspect of our medical care in the countries we serve is nutrition services. Some of the people we serve in our clinics have struggled to get enough nutrition through food. Sometimes it’s because they’re leaving places experiencing famine or violence, so basic necessities like food have been scarce. It can also be because they’ve struggled to get enough to eat on the way to places of refuge, often making long journeys with little support. Additionally, they may be unable to get enough to eat in the camps or settlements where we serve. Most often, women and children are more vulnerable to malnutrition.

Therefore, we offer outpatient integrated nutrition support for people with severe or moderate acute malnutrition. In some countries, we also provide inpatient treatment for malnutrition too. We offer nutrition through ready-to-use therapeutic foods like Plumpy’nut, a nutrient and calorically dense paste. As a part of our nutrition program, we always include interventions at the community level, carried out mostly by community health workers. They actively look for children who may need a referral to a clinic. They also help provide education for families and follow-up on the care of malnourished children who are already enrolled in the program.

Mental health and psychosocial support

As more research is done around the mental health effects of displacement, we continue to focus on providing mental health and psychosocial support for the people we serve. While our services across country programs vary, they all offer support that tries to protect and promote the mental well-being of our patients and their families or treat mental health conditions. That might mean offering individual counseling, support groups, or prescriptions from providers for medication. Additionally, most of our providers and community health workers are trained in the principles of psychological first aid.

Hope through health care

Providing medical care to the people we serve — often after they’ve faced deeply difficult experiences — is just one of the ways we fulfill our calling. All people deserve the chance to be cared for with compassion and expertise, no matter where they are in the world.

As Dr. Cecilia says,

“The services we provide in hard-to-reach places are key to enabling access to curative and preventative health care services and contribute to reducing mortality in vulnerable populations.”

If you’d like to send loving, life-saving medical care to someone facing crisis, consider joining The Pulse! It’s our community of recurring givers who are powering the heartbeat of Medical Teams.