Medicine for the Poor and Sick of Honduras (Part 1)

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One of the programs Abandoned Children’s Fund implements is the shipment of high quality donated pharmaceuticals to developing nations like Honduras. In late July and early August of 2014 ACF undertook to send an inspection team to visit the two consignees our program has relied on to distribute the medicines we have donated to them in the last 18 months.

The Abandoned Children’s Hunger Fund team assembled for this inspection was comprised of Marcus Begley who served as the pre-visit coordinator and Ken McGrath who provides consultation services to Abandoned Children’s Fund for Gift-in-Kind projects. We were also joined on the second part of the project tour by Janice Meyer, who has been working in Honduras (particularly with Dr. Ugarte) as a health program volunteer with Washington University for many years. Janice’s bi-lingual skills were extremely helpful in bridging every language barrier would could have hindered us in our tour of Dr. Ugarte’s distribution network.

Children’s Health and Education Fund Central America (CHEFCA)

The team rendezvoused in the airport in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday, July 29th at noon and was greeted by Dr. Cassas, the Principal of CHEFCA who provided transportation for us to immediately undertake to visit the CHEFCA warehouse in suburban Tegucigalpa. The structure (Bodega) presented to us as the receiving warehouse was a very well secured, clean and open storage space attached to what at one time had been a gas station. Though there were only a few cartons of medicine in view that is what one would expect as the last container of medicines sent to CHEFCA would reasonably be expected to have been distributed by this time.

The primary purpose of visiting this facility was to assure ourselves that the building is sufficiently strong and well secured against intrusion, clean and dry, and accessible for receiving and unloading incoming cargo from trucks that convey the inventory from the customs warehouse.

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We proceeded from the warehouse to a building in Tegucigalpa called the Centro Nacional de Diabetico, Hospital San Felipe, which Dr. Cassas explained is the flagship of his philanthropic efforts to combat diabetes, which is rampant and an endemic health crisis in Honduras. We were introduced to Dr. Jesus Orlando Molina, the director of the Hospital and given a guided tour of the facilities which appeared in some sections to be in a condition of incomplete construction. There were however rooms dedicated to Hospital Beds, labs, a large auditorium sized classroom for instructing Diabetes patients in self-care, diet and management. We stopped by the Pharmacy and noted there was a substantial supply of Diabetes medicine from our donor on hand from our recent donation.

Doctor Cassas explained that the Hospital just completing the process of final status as an Institution which would qualify it for large foundation grants that were not presently available to them because their Institutional status was still in the process of being approved by the government. The bureaucracy (it was explained) was a bane to their efforts to acquire the kind of funding they are hoping to secure to operate more efficiently in the future.

This same bureaucracy was also offered as the reason the completion of the building’s construction was being delayed. While part of the building was apparently functional we did not see any patients being served or resident in the hospital. We were given some rather startling numbers and statistics (namely that the Institute would be seeing 5,000 – 6,000 patients per month and that there was an organized voluntary association of diabetic patients who were in treatment or had been treated that numbered 17,000 individuals who acted as a voice for political influence in the civil society.

While what presently stands as the Centro Nacional de Diabetico, Hospital San Felipe is somewhat impressive as a potential instrument to combat the tragic circumstances of a 25% – 40% diagnosis of diabetes in the general Honduras population, there were many missing pieces missing to the unfinished puzzle.

We bid adios to Dr. Jesus Orlando Molina and proceeded to the next stop in our Tuesday afternoon agenda and we visited the Clinica de Emergencias El Cuerpo Bombaderos Y El Pueblo de Tegucigalpa which is a long name that means a public health center (or Centro de Salude) which is located in a fire station in Tegucigalpa. At this small clinic we met a small team of doctors and nurses who serve as the public health provision for this immediate area in Tegucigalpa, all of who were familiar with Dr. Cassas. We were able to look at the available dispensary or pharmacy and see that some of the medicines we have shipped to CHEFCA were available for the medical staff to prescribe to their clients.

By the time we were finished meeting the staff in the Bombaderos it was late afternoon and we began to make our way to the hotel to check in for the evening. Your correspondent had been in transit from home for more than 30 hours at this point and a shower and dinner was beginning to beckon. Though doctor Cassas wanted to meet us at 6:00 in the morning to begin the next day’s tour, we negotiated for a 7:00 AM start time and said good night before he departed to visit a patient he had performed surgery on a few days earlier removing three 9 mm bullets from a wounded soldier’s chest.

We all slept well the evening of Tuesday July 29th after traveling thousands of miles to arrive at Honduras and spending the day inspecting these first few locations with Dr. Cassas, particularly knowing that in a few short hours he would be back at the hotel lobby with every intention of driving us several hundred kilometers North and East to visit several more examples of his distribution network in the Oloncho Department on Wednesday.

At 7:00 AM sharp, Wednesday morning doctor Cassas was back in the hotel lobby to pick us up. After a brief provisioning of water and snacks we headed northeast along the Carretera a Oloncho highway past Guayamaca, Campamento and Jutacalpa to Catacamus, the jewel of the East Central region of Honduras about 210 Kilometers out of the capital (stopping along the way at a Mennonite cafe for breakfast).

Catacamus has the distinction of being the largest municipality in the largest and sprawling Department in Honduras, Oloncho. Our first stop in Catacamus was in the Office of the pastor of the local Baptist Church in Catacamus who welcomed us into his office and explained through translators, that their church was involved in a constant program of medical outreach (called brigades) to the remote indigenous Indian communities in the area. The members of the church vote to commit themselves on weekends to drive out with medical personnel and (other diverse volunteers) to assist the very poor and disadvantaged peoples in the mountains. The most common health conditions they suffer are parasites, malaria, malnutrition and complications with childbirth. Unlike the general population in Honduras the incidence of Diabetes and High Blood Pressure are not soaring because they do not have regular access to the highly processed foods common in the cities. Part of the brigade work is identifying and tracking the health needs of these people and providing medicines for them.

We then proceeded to visit a clinic attached to the Cathedral of Francis de Assisi where we were met by a nurse who gave us a tour of the facility and a look into the Farmacia where we again found primarily medicines that had been donated by Abandoned Children’s Fund

Our next visit brought us to the Bienvenidos Hogar Materno Catacamus, and finally the Clinica Materno Infantil Y de Emergencia, where we met the staffs and asked questions about the client base and the need for medicine. Both of these facilities were Public Health facilities designed to care for the maternity needs of the huge department (or State) of Oloncho, which is very expansive.

Our day inspecting a portion of the CHEFCA distribution network came to completion with the long drive back into Tegucigalpa and our farewell greetings to Dr. Cassas who makes this distribution network in Honduras possible. We parted ways with the best of wishes for the future of our working relationship with this organization.

The next day, Thursday would be our introduction to the Principal of a completely different Distribution Network, Municipalidad de Pimienta, supervised by the Alcalde (elected official) of Pimienta, Dr. Raul Ugarte with whom arrangements had been made to personally drive to Tegucigalpa and pick our team up at the hotel and convey us approximately 250 Kilometers North to San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, with a population of almost 1,000,000 people.

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