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Article Doctors Connect on Needy Overseas from Florida Times Union

Doctors connect on needy overseas By P. Douglas Filaroski Times-Union staff writer Qudratullah Mojadidi has spent three decades closing soldiers' wounds and saving the lives of Afghan women and their babies. Working at hospitals in his native Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the Jacksonville doctor has relied on word of mouth for volunteers to help him and for donated equipment. Mojadidi, an obstetrician-gynecologist nominated for a Nobel Prize for his work, is among dozens of physicians from the First Coast who go overseas on humanitarian missions without much fanfare, coordination or money. One of them, Cuban-born Jorge Gamba of Baptist Medical Center, recently launched a Web site to try to organize these efforts and gain financial support. "These are great causes, but no one outside of this county knows about them," Gamba said. "The intent is to link people together." Only through word of mouth did Gamba learn in 1991 about services doctors and nurses from Baptist Medical Center provided in the South American nation of Paraguay. Since then, Gamba has traveled there several times to train people for radiology work, and found the experience rewarding. "I felt I got more out of it than the [patients] did," Gamba said. With the help of the Duval County Medical Society, Gamba launched a Web site called "International Health Volunteers," for doctors and organizations doing volunteer work. The site reports physicians' specialties, when they're available to go overseas and how to contact them. It also identifies more than 100 organizations around the world doing humanitarian work so that doctors, nurses or other health workers can network. As far as Gamba knows, it is the only Web site of its kind. He plans to meet this month with American Medical Association President-elect Yank Coble, who is also a Jacksonville physician, to see if the AMA might run or at least participate in the site. Helping people in poorer countries who lack adequate medical care is important, but many doctors don't know how to get involved, Gamba said. More doctors needed Ken Koster, a cardiac surgeon at Baptist, learned about efforts in Haiti through a hospital newsletter. He said he would like to see more doctors pitch in. "It is simple and pure," Koster said. "You are doing something that would otherwise not be done. You literally relieve human discomfort, and it feels great." Koster began traveling to Haiti with St. Vincent's Medical Center executive John W. Logue, discovering poverty 700 miles from Miami that was hard to comprehend. "It makes you cringe," Koster said. Most citizens, about 85 percent, have no jobs. They subsist on bartering and meager farming. A small hospital that volunteers helped build in the village of Fond-des-Blancs has no X-ray capability, but has a modest lab and a pharmacy stocked with drugs shipped in volunteers' suitcases. Most patients arrive on foot or by donkey. Koster said he found appealing directly to colleagues is the best way to get volunteers, but he is hopeful a Web site can generate interest. "I think what [Gamba] is trying to do is provide a clearinghouse," Koster said. "One thing I know, there are not enough physicians who become involved." In Mojadidi's case, the Web site might have helped the effort he began in the early 1970s after his post-graduate residency at St. Vincent's Medical Center. Two decades after he had started with a small hospital in Pakistan, Mojadidi faced a difficult choice: Move with the hospital into Afghanistan -- where he knew it might not survive -- or risk losing support he had since gathered from groups in several other nations. The groups provided most of the funding by then and wanted the hospital to move inside the war-torn country. Mojadidi knew from experience in the early days of his work how difficult it was to operate without broad support. Mojadidi rented a house, hired the nurses and doctors at his own expense and started a women's clinic for Afghan refugees in Peshwar, Pakistan. "Financially, it was an enormous burden," he said. So, at the urging of his support groups, he moved with the hospital in the early 1990s to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, as fighting with Communists continued. Not long after the hospital's move, the Taliban regime took control of Afghanistan. The situation became too dangerous, and workers had to abandon the hospital, Mojadidi said. Work continues Today, Mojadidi concentrates on his work in Pakistan, providing care for Afghan women, whose care often is is gravely neglected. "They could die on their doorstep and no one would care," said Mojadidi, a Muslim who said he believes the culture of Afghanistan, not the religion of Islam, is to blame for women's neglect. Mojadidi recently joined with an international humanitarian group known as the Shuhada organization to operate a clinic for Afghan women in Quetta, Pakistan, where he travels annually. Mojadidi said Americans should not blame the Afghan people for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The blame should lie with terrorists who took residence in his country during a time of instability. "Al-Qaida took the country hostage," Mojadidi said. "The people are totally fed up with war. They need help." Staff writer P. Douglas Filaroski can be reached at (904) 359-4509 or via e-mail at dfilaroski@jacksonville.com. This site, and all its content, The Florida Times-Union

Doug Filaroski
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