Inauguration of Total Health at the Iquitos celebration. (Rajmund Dabrowski)

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Rajmund Dabrowski

In Peru, Seventh-day Adventists Celebrate Decades of Health Work

Ten-year Global Health Initiatives partnership, Stahl clinic's 90th anniversary noted

IQUITOS, PERU

For 90 years, Seventh-day Adventists have brought health and healing to residents of this beyond-road jungle gateway to the Amazon River. Clinicia Adventista Ana Stahl, named after one of two pioneering missionaries to the area, is recognized as "the best hospital in the region" by local authorities.

Over the past 10 years, the Stahl clinic has also partnered with Centura Global Health Initiatives, a project of Centura Health, which operates Adventist hospitals in Colorado, along with the Adventist Health System and Catholic Health Initiatives, which joined with GHI in 2009. Through short-term mission trips, GHI aims "to make a significant impact in these communities through no-cost surgical, medical, community health, and education programs."

A recent anniversary celebration drew 1,500 participants, including Adventists, former patients, civic leaders, leaders of sister institutions from Lima and Juliaca, as well as representatives of GHI from Denver, Colorado.

The October 8 event featured patients and their stories of how their lives were changed through the assistance of CAAS medical professionals and hundreds of volunteers from Denver hospitals. The event also introduced Total Health, a new initiative moving GHI’s efforts beyond treating disease and facilitating best practices in healthcare, to promoting prevention and lifestyle changes.

As he visited Iquitos and was involved with the medical needs of Clinica Adventista Ana Stahl, Dr. David Watson, GHI's chief medical officer, explained the importance of elevating the group's involvement with the Total Health concept. “We are looking at populations from a Total Health standpoint instead of just a disease [angle], but also psychological, preventative, nutritional, and more,” he said.

“We are continuing the good efforts done with surgical teams, with education, [and] we are looking toward an exciting new partnership with the endeavor surrounding Total Health,” he added.

Commenting on the celebration, Watson said he “felt a great deal of satisfaction and pride in the tremendous work that has occurred in the last ten years with the population and how they have partnered with their colleagues in Colorado. I also felt a tremendous desire to move forward as they progress into the next 10 years.”

The seven-member GHI team visiting Peru included Greg Hodgson, GHI director; Stephen King, vice president for mission integration for Centura Health South Denver; Watson; and architect Steve Carr.

As the Total Health project is in its infancy, their presence was important in evaluating the needs as well as proposing a recommendation to build new facilities in Manati I Zona village, an hour by boat from Iquitos, on the Amazon River. The village has 500 inhabitants and is the largest in the immediate 1,500-strong vicinity of scattered villagers.

Meeting with a group of excited and engaged villagers, the GHI team was joined by regional civic leaders from Peru's Indiana District, as well as Dr. Milka Brañez, CAAS CEO and hospital personnel.

“We will be the winners. After all, we will be first to have this project established here,” Hermogenes Morales Ramos, president of the village council said to the applause of the villagers. Much of the time in Manati was spent in selecting a site for a medical center.

Architect Carr, who has been involved with designing medical facilities for several decades, said what will be proposed would need to reflect the indigenous character of the area. For him, it was important to come and “see the people and understand the culture, the way they live, and come up with ideas that can be community-driven, and not imposing ideas on them that won’t work.”

Before recommending an architectural solution, along with processes, workflow, and where they will live, “it is important to listen first. They are helping to choose what they want. [We need] to understand the craftsmanship that exists in the area, and indigenous ways that work for them.” Watching the architect take pictures of the patterns and textures reflecting the area and cultural values, Carr is expecting to propose solutions early next year.

"In reality, our mission to extend the healing ministry of Christ does not recognize borders," said Hodgson. “During the 10 years of GHI mission, 1,800 volunteers performed medical services and GHI assisted in strengthening health systems in several countries, including Nepal, Rwanda, and Peru.”

The GHI anniversary report about its mission reveals that nearly 48,000 individuals have been impacted and medical teams have performed 2,082 surgeries, treating nearly 44,000 patients. As the GHI efforts focused on partnership with Dr. Milka Brañez and her staff, Hodgson noted the support extended to CAAS by sister Adventist hospitals — Juliaca American Clinic and Lima's Good Hope Clinic — whose leaders participated in the Iquitos celebration.

“Helping each other and celebrating the success of one, we celebrate our joined efforts,” said one CAAS staffer.

Recalling the GHI engagement with CAAS, King commented that, “when we came here with Greg in 2005, we saw a hospital that had not developed much over the years. What we discovered was an abandoned MRI machine which had been sitting there for years, not much equipment, and they had only six patients and maybe 15 rooms. But we were so impressed by the mission and the spirit of the leaders and the hospital staff.”

Addressing the Iquitos celebration, King congratulated CAAS on the first 10 years of progress for the Iquitos hospital, and the stories each patient represents, stories of lives that have been changed. Looking at what Clinica represents now, King described “an amazing transformation, with its modern lab, modern imaging equipment, and excellent surgical services.”

Doctora Milka, as everyone calls Dr. Brañez, agrees. During her five years as CEO, she notes the progress made, the result of their partnership with Centura Health and its Denver hospitals, especially in the training and services they provided to the community, especially in the poor areas of the Amazon basin.

“The work we have been doing together has been very productive. What was missing was increased modernization, and the addition of an intensive care unit. Today we have 40 beds and 230 medical personnel and staff. GHI has helped us to grow professionally and has extended social services to the community. They became an example for us to follow,” she added.

As cooperation expands with Colorado Adventist hospitals and Centura Health, whom Dr. Brañez regards as “big brother, teaching us what to do and how to do it,” she is thinking ahead and dreams of new hospital facilities with an emergency room.

As one observes the dedication and engagement of all involved, Clinica Adventista Ana Stahl is well on its way toward accomplishing their dreams.

Rajmund Dabrowski is Communication Director for the Rocky Mountain Conference of 
Seventh-day Adventists

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