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US volunteer medical group expands throughout US-affiliated islands


US volunteer medical group expands throughout US-affiliated islands

MAJURO — A California-based volunteer medical group that started service in the Marshall Islands over 30 years ago is now expanding to many of the other United States-affiliated islands in the Pacific.

Canvasback Missions is planning to provide five medical team visits to Ebeye and Majuro next year as it expands its services to Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and possibly American Samoa.

For the first time since it started providing teams of medical professionals to the Marshall Islands in the mid-1980s, Canvasback is expanding with its first medical mission to Palau in October, and has been asked by officials in American Samoa to extend its services there. It resumed services to the Federated States of Micronesia recently.

An ear-nose-throat or ENT medical team visit for Majuro scheduled for this month was postponed due to non-working diagnostic equipment at Majuro hospital.

It has now been rescheduled for February 1-12, one of two visits Majuro will receive in 2016.

In March, a gynecology team will visit. A visit earlier this year by a gynecology team diagnosed numerous late-stage cancers among women, with doctors saying they rarely see cancers this advanced in patients in the United States.

Ebeye Island will see three team visits with different specialties in 2016: ophthalmology, dental and dermatology teams will visit Ebeye next year.

The continuous provision of dental teams to Ebeye is now paying off, Canvasback co-founder Jacque Spence said Friday.

She was on Ebeye earlier this month with a dental team, the fifth year in a row that Canvasback has provided a dental team in response to requests from Ebeye hospital management.

When Canvasback sent its first dental team to Ebeye five years ago, they were astounded with the overall dental problems among children on the island, which is the most densely populated island in the Pacific with over 10,000 people on about 78 acres of land.

“If a child showed up with teeth like that in the U.S., you’d have to report them to Child Protective Services,” she said.

“This month was our fifth year of annual dental visits and we are seeing good looking teeth now from the use of sealants.”

All second to fifth grade students on Ebeye are run through the dental visit, meaning Ebeye dental staff and Canvasback dentists get to see most of these children for repeat visits over a several year period, providing an opportunity for prevention application of tooth sealants and cleaning.

Spence said the California-based group is taking an orthopedic team to Palau in October — the first time for Canvasback to work with Palau’s Ministry of Health to provide services.

The Ministry of Health in Majuro requested an orthopedic visit to Majuro hospital, but Canvasback says it cannot be scheduled until the hospital hires an orthopedic doctor, one of a number of specialty medical fields lacking at the facility.

Follow up is critical to orthopedic services provided to patients during a two-week mission by Canvasback, which is why having an orthopedic doctor in place at Majuro hospital is a must before a visit can be scheduled, Spence said, adding that she understands one is soon to be hired.

Canvasback has worked in partnership with the Ministry of Health since the mid-1980s, first employing sailing vessels to deliver medical teams to remote outer islands.

In recent years, it has shifted its focus to Majuro and Ebeye, where 75 percent of the 55,000 islanders reside.

Spence said American Samoa asked for a team in 2016 and “we’re looking into it.”

She expects to receive requests from the FSM for 2016 visits following up on a visit they made this year to Yap state.

It takes Canvasback months to obtain the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations of medical supplies, equipment and medicines that it brings to support each medical mission, which makes advance planning from the islands to be visited an essential part of the package, Spence said.

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