Sister City Health Mission Provides Healthcare Access to Thousands
$80 million in medical supplies and services, 47,000 patients, and 20 years. These are the numbers that represent the work that Atlanta Sister Cities’ health mission has done for the community of Montego Bay, Jamaica. Atlanta-Montego Bay sister cities were recognized by Jamaica’s Honorary Consul to Atlanta, Jewell Scott, for their excellence in humanitarian aid over the last two decades. The health mission was founded by the late Vin Martin. Mr. Martin served as Jamaica’s Honorary Consul to Atlanta and was a huge presence in both the Atlanta and Montego Bay communities.
Dr. Yvonne Smith leads a yearly health mission of volunteer doctors, nurses, and administrative staff to Montego Bay to provide free health services to the community. The 2014 trip that took place from October 6-9 had over 50 volunteers, with doctors and nurses from several specialties including internal medicine, pediatrics, dentistry, gynecology, and ophthalmology. After 20 years of mission work, the Montego Bay community is well aware of the annual visit and looks forward to receiving health services.
In the past, pharmaceutical companies would donate medical supplies to the mission, however with present-day regulations, volunteers must acquire the supplies independently. Aside from out-of-pocket funds from volunteer staff, the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission organizes several fundraisers to fund the health mission including a gospel brunch in the spring, a golf tournament in the summer, and a dance for health and raffle in the fall. Since the passing of Honorary Consul Martin, a benevolent fund has been enacted in his name to further assist patients in Montego Bay.
Treatment is open to all ages and health conditions once the volunteers arrive in Montego Bay. After those with serious illnesses are treated, community members are seen on a first come first serve basis. This year, unfortunately, there was an issue getting medicine through customs on time, so many of the work was done on the last day of the trip. Despite this set-back, the group still managed to treat over 2,500 patients, adding on to the 47,000 treated in the past.
The major public health issues in the region are some of the most basic including dental, diabetics, and eye care. Healthcare costs are far too expensive for a majority of the population and the health mission provides locals with access to medical attention each year. From standard check-ups to treating life-threatening illnesses, the procedures vary, but all help to improve the livelihoods of those in the community. “It keeps us going when the people come back each year and tell us how much our work has improved their lives,” said Dr. Smith.