By Joel Strohecker, D.O.
For one week each year, a group initially organized by a church traveled to Guatemala to provide medical care to the indigenous people living in a remote section of the country. As a member of that group who made the week-long trip for the past 9 years, I realized that one week out of a year was wholly inadequate to truly make a difference medically. While we saw improvements in malnutrition, some water practices (we distributed filters and educated the population) and a few communicable diseases, by and large we would return each summer to the same issues. Three years ago, another doctor and I began discussing plans for making a permanent clinic in this remote section of the country.
While the Guatemalan government provides some vaccinations to children, there is otherwise no organized medical care up in these mountains. Most families live in thatched huts with their animals and practice subsistence farming. They are exposed numerous infections, as well as malaria and tuberculosis. A simple tooth infection (there is no dental care or education) can lead to a bloodstream infection and death. While most Guatemalans have a life expectancy of 70 years, those in remote areas have a life expectancy in the 50s.
In 2016 Camotán Clinic was started as a nonprofit organization with the goal of providing health care to this unrecognized community in remote southwest Guatemala. After several months of construction the clinic opened in late 2017. We so far have hired a Guatemalan dentist, nurse and office manager. I have been traveling about every 6 weeks with different doctors to work in the clinic. We are up and running offering everything from pediatrics to dental care and geriatrics. We will be starting an obstetric program in September. In time, we will hire a doctor but for now our frequent medical trips from the U.S. suffice as we build our patient base and learn the needs of the people more completely.
Our clinic is situated in the valley with large mountains all around us. Some of our patients come down to see us but we often have to do “Hut Calls,” traveling up on the mountain to see our patients. Word spreads fast and those who are able to travel have the option of a truck transport that charges 8 cents for the ride down to our clinic.
We are just getting started. Already we have felt tremendous appreciation from the community and have been warmly welcomed by these gracious people. It has made working here enjoyable and fulfilling.
To learn more, or if you would like to volunteer or support our clinic, visit camotanclinic.com.