February 1999 Bulletin

40 years of caring

More than 650 orthopaedists are dedicated to improving quality of education and service in developing countries

Orthopaedics Overseas continues to expand into new countries

By Barry J. Gainor, MD

Orthopaedics Overseas, an organization of more than 650 orthopaedic surgeons who are dedicated to improving the quality of orthopaedic education and service in developing countries celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Orthopaedics Overseas began in 1959 when the Orthopaedics Letters Club sent a volunteer to Jordan. In 1963, the name "Orthopaedics Overseas" was adopted and the organization became part of CARE-MEDICO. Between 1963 and 1981, under the leadership of several notable physicians such as Harold Sofield, MD, and Mark Coventry, MD, more than 700 volunteers served with Orthopaedics Overseas in countries such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Nigeria and Tunisia.

In 1981, Orthopaedics Overseas separated from CARE-MEDICO, hiring part-time support staff to facilitate communications between members, sites and program directors. Then, in 1986, Orthopaedics Overseas became the founding division of Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO), a private voluntary organization dedicated to improving the availability and quality of health care in developing countries through training and education.

During the past 12 years, under the guidance of the Orthopaedics Overseas Board of Directors and with the support of HVO staff, Orthopaedics Overseas has continued to expand into new countries, providing its membership with a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. The current chairman of the Orthopaedics Overseas Board is S. Terry Canale, MD.

Orthopaedics Overseas volunteers pay all their travel and living expenses while overseas, although the real cost is the income forgone while away. The Orthopaedics Overseas division typically sends 60 to 80 volunteers abroad annually, making it the most active division of Health Volunteers Overseas.

Orthopaedics Overseas is active currently in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Volunteers have a unique opportunity to visit these countries, with their rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, and to make a lasting contribution. Unlike tourists, who merely pass through, Orthopaedics Overseas volunteers have the opportunity to get involved, to make friends and to learn first hand about the local culture and customs.

Glen Crawford, MD, Newbury Port, MA, second from right, views child with elbow fracture in Bhutan in 1994.
Active program sites include: Bhutan, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Malawi, Peru, St. Lucia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam. A new site in Kenya has been approved by the Board and will be ready to place volunteers in 1999. The programs all vary according to the needs of the country and educational level of the trainees. Most sites require a month commitment, although some sites offer two-week assignments.

In addition to sending volunteers to work with the local providers of care, Orthopaedics Overseas has coordinated the delivery of millions of dollars of educational materials (books, journals, slides, videos), as well as the donation of equipment and supplies to its sites.

In the fall of 1997, HVO sent its 2,000th volunteer overseas, an occasion marked by a congratulatory letter from President Bill Clinton stating that, "...All Americans can take pride in HVO's successful efforts to empower doctors and other health care professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to provide their patients with quality care.

"Your mission of improving the health care of vulnerable populations across the globe is more important than ever. In many countries and in diverse cultures, HVO has shown that, by improving health services and education, we can also promote social and economic development and foster greater understanding among people and nations."

Almost all volunteers, upon their return home, comment on how much they learned (both professionally and personally) from the opportunity to work closely with their colleagues in such a different setting. Seeing first hand the difficulties in providing orthopaedic care in a resource-poor environment, volunteers return home with a renewed respect for the determination and efforts of their colleagues.

For more information on volunteer opportunities or for a complimentary copy of HVO's quarterly newsletter, call (202) 296-0928, send an e-mail to hvo@aol.com or visit the web site at www.hvousa.org.

Barry J. Gainor, MD, is chairman emeritus, Orthopaedics Overseas, Inc.

Orthopaedics Overseas Sites-A Snapshot

Total population 1995 (millions)
rate 1995
GNP ($) per capita 1995
Population per physician
Bhutan1.8 12253.2 4204,256
Ethiopia56.4 11449.9 10088,119
Indonesia197.5 5065.1 9809,412
Kenya27 6554.5 32021,970
Malawi9.7 13840.7 1709,412
Peru23.5 4168.3 2,31053,605
St. Lucia.16 1770 4,920939
South Africa41.5 5165.2 3,160N.A.
Tanzania30.0 10051.4 120N.A.
Uganda19.7 11141.4 24021,832
Vietnam73.8 3467.4 2402,279
USA (for comparison)267.1 13.876.7 26,980500

N.A.=Not available

Sources: United Nations Children's Fund, World Health Organization, World Bank

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