Posted by: calloftheandes | April 13, 2016

Missionary Medicine Helps Further Advances Against Illness

Dr. Jeannete Zurita’s book, 15 Años Vigilando Lo Invisible, is quietly contributing to the body of medical research literature done by Christian mission agencies, including Reach Beyond.

Dr. Jeannete Zurita

Dr. Jeannete Zurita

Zurita wrote of how the careful documentation of bacteria by the laboratory at Hospital Vozandes-Quito (HVQ) has helped to facilitate informed decisions by healthcare providers striving to confront ever increasingly resistant bugs. Zurita and others began the study began in 2000.

That same year HVQ served as a sentinel site for the detection of the H1N1 virus as well as other emerging strains of influenza. By the time of a global H1N1 pandemic in 2009, flu cases had been catalogued by an Ecuadorian physician and an expatriate missionary—Drs. Wilson Chicaiza and Richard Douce.

Dr. Wilson Chicaiza

Dr. Wilson Chicaiza

The two men facilitated data collection by the Peru-based U.S. Navy Tropical Disease Research Laboratory. That information went to both the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Health Organization. HVQ was also positioned to help start an influenza surveillance program in Ecuador’s largest healthcare facility, Hospital Luis Vernaza, in Guayaquil.

In late 2011 Chicaiza and Douce jointly published the most extensive documentation of the viral causes of influenza-like illnesses in Ecuador. Positing that “tropical countries are thought to play an important role in the global behavior of respiratory infections such as influenza,” their article appeared in PLoS ONE, a digital trade magazine of the Public Library of Science.

A central question asked by the study was whether Ecuador was a source of epidemics or if the Andean country “was simply a stopping-off place as the wave of epidemic flu circulates through the world?” Douce concluded that “our data suggests the latter.”

Such contributions by missionary physicians and their national colleagues are not new, according to Ken Walker, writing in the periodical Christianity Today. “In the 1950s and 1960s, Irish doctor Dennis Burkitt identified a new type of cancer that came to be called Burkitt lymphoma while investigating jaw tumors in Ugandan children,” Walker wrote in a mid-2013 edition of the magazine.

“Jack Hough, who played a key role in the founding of global Christian health organization MAP International, was a pioneer in microscopic ear surgery,” continued Walker. “Surgeon Paul Brand earned acclaim for his innovative treatments of leprosy patients in India.”

Dr. Ron Guderian (archive photo)

Dr. Ron Guderian (archive photo)

Among the filed documents of Dr. Frank Richards, is a copy of an article on river blindness published by Dr. Ron Guderian in 1982. Richards, who now heads the Global River Blindness Elimination Program at the Atlanta-based Carter Center noted Guderian’s assertion—in both that article and an earlier one—that river blindness was present in the Americas and not just on the African continent.

“Missionary physicians have played a very important role in tropical medicine,” Richards told Seattle Pacific University’s Hannah Notess. “So I wasn’t really that surprised that a missionary physician in the boonies, seeing patients, would happen to discover a previously unknown condition.”

As a point man for river blindness research in Ecuador, Guderian co-authored dozens of scientific papers, collaborating with researchers around the world. He recalls that on one occasion upon arriving at his Quito office, he was greeted by representatives of the prestigious London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who had read his articles and wanted to work with him.

“In Guderian’s telling, partnerships like this seemed to happen when needed most, as answers to prayer,” wrote Notess. “The Germany-based Christian Blind Mission provided financial support. The London School provided lab facilities for research. The Catholic archdiocese of Esmeraldas provided resources to develop community health infrastructure.”

A significant boost to the work in Ecuador came with the 1987 announcement by Merck Pharmaceuticals that it would make freely available the drug ivermectin (or Mectizan®) for distribution in any country where river blindness was present, for as long as the disease persisted. This led to the World Health Organization’s official declaration in 2014 of the disease’s elimination from Ecuador.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter chats with an Atlanta-area church congregation.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter chats with an Atlanta-area church congregation. (photo by Kenneth D. MacHarg)

“Together with The Carter Center and international partners,” said the center’s founder, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, “Rosalynn and I want to congratulate Ecuador for wiping out river blindness and showing that eliminating this disease from the Americas is possible.”

Community health workers had played a key role in the eradication of river blindness in Ecuador—the world’s second nation to attain that goal. Trained by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, they had made sure that every person in tiny river villages took an ivermectin dose semiannually. For example in 2008, a combined 27,372 ivermectin treatments were administered to just over 16,000 people.

Faith-based groups’ involvement in healthcare provision was recognized by a mid-2015 study cited by The Lancet medical journal. “Religious groups are major players in the delivery of healthcare, particularly in hard-to-reach and rural areas that are not adequately served by government,” said Edward Mills, the study’s author and a senior epidemiologist at Global Evaluative Sciences in Canada.

During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, faith groups were key mediators, according to Mills who was cited in a news story by Magdalena Mis of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Devastated villages needed persuasion to drop their custom of embracing the dead. The faith community also provided vital medical services and support.

As professional fulfillments go, co-authoring publishable research studies with those Ecuadorians at HVQ whom he helped to train may well top Guderian’s list. Of Ecuadorians who worked with him, 18 went on for further study in Brazil, France, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S.

The hospital’s first medical residency came about in the 1960s in
ophthalmology under Dr. Gustavo Moreno’s leadership. Guderian’s investigations in Ecuador’s remote areas outside the capital city of Quito occurred during the 1980s as HVQ medical students were able to begin pursuing a family practice residency, thanks to the efforts of Drs. Ev Bruckner, Gil Wagoner and Cal Wilson. Preparations are underway for a May celebration in Quito commemorating the special anniversary dates associated with HVQ’s various residency programs.

Dr. Richard Douce

Dr. Richard Douce

Douce recalls teaching residents during the 1990s on the use of library skills on the Internet. “Our residents told us [in 2015] that we were the first to have email, the first to have Internet capabilities and that they’ve been in the vanguard of medical educators because of their experience … in our residency,” he said.

“And so we were advancing things that are now commonplace, and our residents were at the peak of the wave,” Douce added. “It was just a joy to be able to do that.”



  1. […] medical team took shape quickly due to the quality of the staff to choose from at Hospital Vozandes-Quito (HVQ), a Reach Beyond facility, and the mission’s experience in disaster response. The four-person crew […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: