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MGH Hotline 1.28.11 When Stephanie Moore, md, a cardiologist with the MGH Heart Center, made her first trip to the city of Kolkata, India, in May 2009, she witnessed the extreme poverty experienced by many of the city's sick and poor.

Helping hands in India

28/Jan/2011

INSPIRED TO ACT: Letourneau, center, a Department of Medicine resident who volunteered at a rural health clinic in India, with local Kolkata residents (Photo by Jenny Kim Photography)

When Stephanie Moore, MD, a cardiologist with the MGH Heart Center, made her first trip to the city of Kolkata, India, in May 2009, she witnessed the extreme poverty experienced by many of the city's sick and poor. Moore was visiting friends living in India and working at the Mission of Mercy Hospital and Research Centre -- a 177-bed hospital that provides free care and the hospital where Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity served the poor. From that trip, a partnership was born between the MGH and Mercy Hospital.

"What I saw and learned was how so many people -- the sick, poor and disabled -- get by with practically nothing," says Moore. "The MGH is a special place where health care workers can partner globally and create change. This was an opportunity."

Vanessa Bradford Kerry, MD, MSc, associate director of Education for the MGH Center for Global Health, and seven Department of Medicine residents have been evaluating the health needs of patients at 14 rural health clinics affiliated with Mercy Hospital. The assessment will determine what diseases are present and what resources are required for treatment. The needs of the clinics are diverse, from basic essentials such as thermometers and prenatal counseling to reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors and offering the HPV vaccine.

"The structure is there," says Moore. "What we hope to do is determine how Mercy Hospital and its doctors can take advantage of the health clinics to better serve the people of rural India." 

Alyssa Letourneau, MD, was the first resident to visit Kolkata in April 2010. One of the patients she saw was a 3-week-old infant with a fever. In the United States, this baby would have been admitted to the hospital for testing, but the rural clinic lacked even basic antibiotics to treat her. As a result of such cases, one of the group's goals is to provide each clinic with a set of core medications and antibiotics in formulations for both adults and children.

"Looking at the mom and baby, I was struck that this child could die of an infection that is treatable in most parts of the world," says Letourneau, who also has worked at an MGH-affiliated hospital in South Africa. "It's humbling to see how people live and how care is provided in other parts of the world. We are in sort of a bubble here in the United States."

The other MGH residents involved in the Kolkata project are Gina Rae Kruse, MD; Oluseyi Ojeifo, MD; Sonali Paul, MD; Aparna Raj, MD, MS; Sara Schwanke-Khilji, MD, MPH; and Curtis Chong, MD. Bradford Kerry serves as a faculty mentor.

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