Much of the medicine we use today comes from the Amazon, the world’s largest and most diverse rainforest. Drugs to fight cancer, HIV, malaria and other diseases have been discovered here, and we have only scratched the surface of this natural medicine cabinet. But those who have lived there for thousands of years are still suffering from diseases that require access to proper medical care to be tackled.
A military cargo plane descends over the rainforest, carrying medical supplies and equipment. On board, volunteer Fabiana Garcia prepares to face the challenge that awaits below.
Fabiana is a GE Healthcare employee and also part of Brazilian Health Expeditions, a non-profit organization made up of doctors, nurses and other volunteers who venture several times a year to the most remote reaches of the Amazon rainforest, providing free medical care to those who live there.
This August, the expedition traveled to a Yanomami village, one of the largest isolated indigenous tribes in South America who still live a semi-nomadic lifestyle in the rainforest.
Brazilian Health Expeditions has provided care to over 30,000 indigenous people from around 52 tribes since 2003. With each mission, they face complex challenges that require great skill and medical equipment to overcome. Luckily, with each expedition they also bring bags of ambition and support from healthcare partners around the world.
This year, high-tech mobile tents carrying advanced medical equipment were deployed, providing obstetrics and gynecology services for expecting mothers, as well as hernia and cataract surgeries for those who needed them.
But in an environment as remote as the Amazon, traditional machines won’t do. Fabiana brought with her GE’s mobile ultrasound system: the Vscan with Dual Probe*, an ultrasound with a footprint the size of a smartphone, and two LOGIQ e, another portable ultrasound the size of a laptop, to help with obstetrics exams as well as surgeries.
Fabiana was charged with carrying out ultrasound scans for the missions, a task made extra challenging by the fact that most patients she treated had never even seen an ultrasound before. She had to overcome the language barrier between her and the Yanomami mothers, and teach them about the benefits of the technology.
“I brought a Vscan with Dual Probe, an ultrasound machine that fits in a pocket, to support doctors providing immediate care as it is easy to carry it what helps us move faster from the surgery tent to perform basic exams. I also brought the LOGIQ e to help diagnose the pregnant women,” she said.
With these resources, the volunteers are tackling some of the region’s most pressing healthcare needs: children from the villages often walk long distances carrying heavy loads, leaving them prone to hernias; years of prolonged sun exposure leaves most villagers over the age of 40 with cataracts.
Medics were also on hand to help with emergencies. In one instance, a 7 year-old girl severely injured her hand in a food grinder. With the nearest hospital 4 days away, hopes of keeping her hand were slim. But with the arrival of the expedition, the girl was soon treated and her hand saved.
In total, more than 50 volunteers from all medical professions saw 2,863 patients and performed 239 surgeries during this expedition, their thirty-third. For Dr. Ricardo Ferreira, orthopedic surgeon and founder of Brazilian Health Expeditions, the missions are about more than providing healthcare to the locals. “It’s also about respecting the forest and traditions of patients and their families,” he said. Speaking about how the missions started, he added, “I found myself in the middle of nowhere with no one but a group of amazing people that truly needed me. I knew I could help them and that’s how I started the medical mission of my life.”
*Vscan with Dual Probe is not available in all countries