Aníbal Zambrano, a medical doctor in St. Louis, and his wife, Katy, have been involved for the last 20 years with an organization that plans medical missions to Peru. The project started when Peruvian doctors training in the U.S. formed a group of about 600 doctors to improve the state of Peruvian hospitals and provide treatment there for people who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
Graciela Corvalan, who also lives in St. Louis, had often heard the Zambranos talk about the Peru project and their trips. One evening in late July 2003, she visited them in their home to talk at length about this work that is so dear to them.
Although the version of the interview published below has been shortened for editorial purposes, it covers the most important aspects of the Peru project and especially conveys the dedication, enthusiasm and expertise lying behind this tremendous effort.
Q. Why do you call these projects "missions"?
A. Why? Although the word "mission" may have religious connotations, we are not a religious organization. We call them "missions" because we go to assist people.
Q. Then what do your medical missions do?
A. We have three main objectives. First, we treat patients such as indigenous people who do not have the means to pay. We do not charge for anything, and we even take the intravenous fluids we might need for surgery. Second, we take medical instruments to improve the quality of care at the local hospitals, which are usually 40 or 50 years behind the level here. For example, we took equipment for laparoscopic surgery to Iquitos, a city at the upper end of the Amazon, which had none. And third, we train the local doctors in the use of all the new equipment and instruments. Of course, some of them already know about the new techniques, but they need to be trained to use the new equipment. While we are there, the doctors may perform 200 surgeries, and when we leave, they can continue doing the work year after year.
Q. Would you say that the health situation in the areas in which you have worked has improved? Are you optimistic about the results?
A. Yes, when we went to Cajamarca four years ago, the hospital was in the same shape as the one we found in Iquitos. Now it is still a poor hospital, but it is much better than before-they have used and maintained the equipment we left, they have even improved it, and they are in touch with other organizations in order to keep improving their service. Once the doctors see that technology can improve the quality of care, that medicine is a science that requires certain tools, they become motivated.