Founded in 1997, Medical Missionaries
is a volunteer group of more than 200 doctors, nurses, dentists, and others who work to improve the health of the poor in
the U.S. and throughout the world. We provide medical care, medical supplies, clothing, and food to the areas we serve. Medical
Missionaries is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and is listed in GuideStar.
We are pleased to provide a brief history of the founding and growth of Medical Missionaries:
In May of 1997 Dr. Gil Irwin was asked
by All Saints Church (Manassas, VA) to lead a medical team to Banica in the Dominican Republic (close to the border with Haiti)
to assess healthcare needs of the people there. Over the next months, volunteers were recruited, and supplies and medicines
were collected for a trip to the remote mountainous villages of Banica, where the villagers had no access to medical care.
The trip was planned for October. The team consisted of 2 doctors, 4 nurses, one civilian, one missionary priest, and a local
volunteer. From Banica, they traveled by foot and mule up steep trails, carrying their backpacks, supplies, and water, taking
anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to reach each village. During the 2-week trip, the team traveled to 6 different villages, and treated
hundreds of patients every day. Some had walked with their families for 2 or 3 days to see a doctor. Most had never seen a
doctor before. The team gave life-saving vaccinations, treated infections, and saw medical conditions that could have been
prevented with basic medical care.
Seeing the dire lack of basic healthcare, the team
realized the situation would not be greatly changed as a result of this one trip, and started discussion of how to best help
these people moving forward.
The seed had been planted. This was the start of Medical
1998 - 1999
Medical teams continued to make trips to provide medical and surgical care in Banica, DR, and Thomassique
(just across the border in Haiti).
During this time, a Twinning Program was officially started between St. Thomas
Church (Thomassique, Haiti) and the U.S. parishes of All Saints Church and St. Henry's. Twinning Programs are designed to
bring together a parish from each country to decide how they could help each other.
It was realized that to meet
our goal of bringing healthcare to the region would require extensive planning and a more formal structure for the growth
of Medical Missionaries, and many volunteers worked together on strategic planning for the next phases of the organization’s
2000 - 2008
In 2000, Medical Missionaries received its certificate of incorporation in the State of Virginia, and received official IRS
status as a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit charity.
Medical Missionaries leadership started plans to build a permanent
clinic in Thomassique, and construction was started in 2005.
St. Joseph Clinic formally opened its doors on June
4, 2007. The Clinic was open five days a week for general consultation and 24/7 for emergency and maternity care. In its first
years, the Clinic treated an average of 1,300 patients each month (more than 15,000 per year), and facilitated about 25 births
per month (300 per year).
2009 and on
After the clinic was operating for a few years, we saw additional needs to address: first, establishing programs that would
help prevent some of the more common ailments that were regularly seen at the clinic; second, bringing healthcare to villagers
living in remote outlying villages of Thomassique.In response to these needs, the following programs were introduced, starting
Maternal and Infant Care Program
Facilitating safe births has always been a central goal
of St. Joseph Clinic. For the first few years, the Clinic's nurses helped women with deliveries. In 2012 the program was expanded
to include training midwives on the Clinic staff, and improving prenatal and postnatal care.
The program also
includes training of traditonal birth attendants (Matwons) who facilitate at-home births in the outlying villages. In an area
where an estimated 75% of all births are at home, this has made an enormous difference. In 2015, 30 trained Matwons facilitated
more than 1350 at-home births; in 2016, that number rose to over 1500.
We introduced Klorfasil, a home-based system that effectively removes
contaminants. Thanks to a grant from the Gerard Health Foundation, we were able to subsidize the initial cost of purchasing
the system for several years.Implementation of the Water Purification Program began in earnest early in 2010, with the outbreak
of a cholera epidemic, and has continued to grow each year since.
We saw many children suffering from severe malnutrition. We learned about
a peanut-butter-based nutritional supplement, Medika Mamba, that rescued children from malnutrition in about two months, and
partnered with Meds and Food for Kids to secure Medika Mamba, and introduced a program that is run by Clinic nurses.
School Lunch Program
Medical Missionaries worked with Feed My Starving Children, an organization
that provides the food packets, and introduced a program that provides a hot lunch every school day. For many children, this
was the only full meal they would have that day. Since its beginning, the school lunch program was expanded to feedover 1,000
students each school day in 8 to 10 schools.
Bon Sel (Good Salt) Program
A lack of iodine in the villagers’ diets causes a prevalence of lymphatic filariasis and delayed brain
development in children. Bon Sel, a fortified salt product developed by the University of Notre Dame Haiti Project, has the
potential of eliminating those two diseases. Our Bon Sel Program works with local distributors to make Bon Sel available,
and conducts education programs on the importance of using Bon Sel.
About half the residents in the Thomassique region live in six outlying villages,
and they would walk two to four hours to get to the Clinic, sometimes with serious illnesses or to deliver babies. We explored how we might provide at least basic healthcare services closer to where those villagers lived, and started
Community Health Centers in these outlying villages. Community Health Workers were chosen in each village to coordinate care.
They were trained to do basic triage, refer patients to the Clinic when necessary, and conduct education sessions each month.
Doctors and nurses from the Clinic visited each village every month to conduct mobile clinics.
Over the following years we also introduced a program to train Matwons (traditional birth attendants) who work throughout
the remote villages to assist women through safe pregnancy and delivery, and learn to spot high-risk pregnancies that needed
to be referred to the Clinic for care.
These programs continue as ongoing services
of St. Joseph Clinic. Medical Missionaries remains committed to a long-term presence in Thomassique, and continues to partner
with other organizations to launch and sustain life-saving programs.