Tzu Chi's medical mission to Phillipines: Protecting the health of the poor

from Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation
Published on 09 Mar 2007
In the first three days of March of 2007, Taiwan Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation (Tzu Chi) Philippines Branch carried out its 90th free medical mission in the Philippines. Tzu Chi Philippines volunteers went to Tabaco, Albay province, providing free medical services. Tabaco is one of the cities nearest to the volcano Mount Mayon. They traveled first by air and then by road to reach the rural area. More than 200 volunteers were mobilized for the mission: 174 local volunteers and 55 medical professionals of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) affiliated with various medical institutions. Over three days, the free medical mission treated 4 352 patients.

Last December, Super Typhoon Durian's torrential rains triggered mudslides, burying some homes up to their roofs. Tzu Chi volunteers responded immediately, providing food rations and free medical services. In the disaster's aftermath, volunteers found that most residents were unable to afford medical care, so in response, Tzu Chi Manila volunteers set up a temporary medical camp in Tabaco.

One patient at the Tzu Chi free medical mission was a 32-year-old woman suffering from an enlarged abdomen. Accompanied by her husband, she sought treatment for an ovarian tumor. The OB/GYN specialist physician Dr CHEN Hui Xin suggested removing it through surgery, but the patient was very worried about the cost of surgery and finding accommodations in Manila. After learning of these concerns, Dr CHEN invited the patient to stay with her. Both husband and wife were so moved that tears welled in their eyes.

After setting up Taiwan Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation in 1966, Master Cheng Yen witnessed how illness can be a source of terrible hardship and suffering. Many people become impoverished because a family member falls ill, and the situation is particularly dire in rural communities where medical care and facilities are lacking or unaffordable. In 1972, unwilling to see others suffer, Master Cheng Yen took concrete steps to relieve the plight of the needy by holding free clinics in the rural eastern region of Taiwan and setting up a free clinic in Hualien. With the support of volunteers, Tzu Chi's medical outreach program has continued through the present, safeguarding the health and emotional wellbeing of those in need. The first Tzu Chi hospital, also in Hualien, is now 20 years old, and five other hospitals have been established in all regions of Taiwan. These hospitals also offer house calls and mobile medical care for rural residents.

Tzu Chi medical missions also reach out to countries around the world, including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, the United States and Australia. Skilled doctors travel to isolated areas and remote islands with grace and dedication. TIMA, Tzu Chi's official arm for international medical missions, was formally established in 1997. The organization continues to organize free clinics in rural communities and the outlying islands of Taiwan, make house calls to those with mobility problems and give regular check-ups to the homeless. In 1998, TIMA chapters were established internationally, linking members in Taiwan to a global network. TIMA doctors help to bridge the health gap and bring relief to the sick and poor in many countries.

Tzu Chi TIMA members in central Taiwan make regular trips to isolated mountainous regions of Miaoli County. One female elderly patient has been unable to walk for many years as a result of stroke. Saddened by the patient's wheelchair-bound state, doctors personally gave her physical therapy. Another male stroke victim has been bed-ridden for many years, and doctors treated the bedsores covering his body. While caring for people living in mountainous regions, TIMA gives patients the highest quality medical care available.

In Taiwan or around the world, TIMA mobilizes health care in the same way. A chauffer in Manila, Philippines, developed cataracts three years ago and became blind. Unable to afford the US$300 surgery fee, he became unemployed. When Tzu Chi held a free clinic, his eyesight was restored, bringing back color to his life.

In Indonesia, doctors gave assistance in the aftermath of the Yogyakarta earthquake, completing 46 operations within eight days, using saline solution as antiseptic, checking x-ray pictures by the light of the window, and using tree branches to hold intravenous drips.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans in the American south. A year and a half later, volunteers are still offering support. In early 2007, the American branch of TIMA was invited by Remote Area Medical to hold a clinic in New Orleans where they treated 600 patients.

In Argentina, an indigenous village in the Santiago del Estero region is known locally as 'little Africa' for its poverty and the clear disparity between it and the nation's major cities. Volunteers have been here four times to carry out medical missions, most recently at the start of 2007, and have increasing patient numbers. A 94-year-old hunched back man was unable to stand upright or lie down on a hospital bed, but he says that the acre these physicians provided has helped to alleviate his situation.

Tzu Chi volunteers from the state of New Jersey, U.S. and local volunteers of the Dominican Republic traveled to mountains 600 meters above sea level to hold a free clinic in a remote area.

One old woman walked for two hours with a walker to get to the clinic. Another thin and frail young man had no idea that if his heart disease was not treated right away, he faced a serious risk of death. Many Americans enjoy abundant medical resources, one TIMA doctor lamented, while patients in the Dominican Republic he encountered were often unaware that they are at high risk of death.

There are currently more than 1 000 TIMA volunteers working in a dozen countries around the world, with dedicated professional doctors providing regular free clinics every week. They devote their time and energy to protect the health of those who do not have access to adequate medical care.

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