What is a Health Promoter?

Partner for Surgery’s Guatemalan born Health Promoters are the hallmark of our approach – no one else does what we do. Health Promoters live in the remote villages where they work. They are recruited for their compassion and drive and trained in health education. They reach out and get help to those most in need, broadcast Health Education Programs in both local Mayan dialects and Spanish, advertise the dates of upcoming Mobile Medical Missions, and accompany patients on their often long journeys to surgery.

Do you accept non-medical volunteers?

Yes, we also accept non-medical volunteers to be part of our rural medical missions. These missions spend a week working in four different communities doing patient triage, visiting patients in their homes and enjoying local cultural activities. They provide a unique look into another culture and for many participants these missions are a major highlight of their travel experiences.

Cleft lip/palate

What is cleft lip/palate?

Cleft lip is a gap in the upper lip that can continue to the nose, depending on the severity of the case. Cleft palate, a more severe condition, is a gap between the two skull plates that form the roof of the mouth. Left untreated, the condition prevents the infant from latching on to the mother’s breast to breastfeed, which leads to malnutrition and starvation. Infants who manage to survive suffer from frequent respiratory infections, and as they grow, they are bullied and never accepted into the community. To make matters worse, their family is stigmatized.

What is the surgery, who is the surgeon?

Cleft lip/palate surgery closes the palate and nasal cavity and constructs a full upper lip. Partner for Surgery connects the most impoverished Guatemalans living in the most remote areas of Guatemala with international Surgical Missions who perform the surgeries. The Guatemalans we serve (primarily Maya), would otherwise never be reached. The family is provided with a place to stay near the surgery site, and the patient receives 24-hour medical care while in recovery. The Health Promoter then accompanies the patient and the family back to their home, and is available for any necessary follow up.

Mobile Medical Missions

What are the goals of a Mobile Medical Mission?

To triage, identify and refer surgical candidates, screen and treat low grades of cervical dysplasia, and provide medical attention.

How can I help?

Sponsor a Mobile Medical Mission, volunteer your expertise, and get the word out about our programs!

What medical specialties are needed?

We need gynecologists, general surgeons, family practitioners, anesthesiologists, emergency medical physicians and pediatricians.

How long is a mission?

A typical schedule lasts 9 days, including travel to and from Guatemala.

  • Saturday: Arrive at airport, travel to Antigua
  • Sunday: Travel to rural area
  • Monday: Clinic 1
  • Tuesday: Clinic 2
  • Wednesday: Cultural day
  • Thursday: Clinic 3
  • Friday: Clinic 4
  • Saturday: travel to Antigua
  • Sunday: Depart

How large is a team?

A team is made up of 2 to 4 medical professionals, each with a different specialty. Teams are accompanied by Partner for Surgery staff, translators, and Health Promoters from our Guatemalan sister organization, Asociación Compañero Para Cirugía.

What types of patients do you serve?

Our patients live in rural areas, most of them in extreme poverty, on less than $1 a day. Over half suffer from chronic malnutrition. We serve patients who suspect they need surgery. We also treat patients with infections and skin conditions. We schedule patients for general surgeries (hernias, gallstones, non-cancerous masses), plastic surgery (burns, skin contractures, extra or fused digits on hands or feet, cleft lip and palate), and gynecology (fibroids, prolapsed uterus). Partner for Surgery does not refer orthopedic, cancer, neurological, organ transplant, or any surgery that is considered an emergency or that would require blood transfusions, but rather informs patients of available options. Most frequently we help those with conditions that would be easily remedied in North America but face considerable obstacles to impoverished Guatemalans.

What are the typical outcomes of a mission?

Medical care for 500 patients in 4 communities.

  • 150 patients referred for general, plastic or gynecological surgery
  • 300 women screened for pre-cancerous cervical lesions using the VIA method
  • 15 women treated for low grade cervical dysplasia with Cryotherapy

I am a gynecologist. How can I help?

By evaluating women to determine their eligibility for surgery, and also by providing support to Ministry of Health nurses using VIA/Cryo methods (familiarity with VIA/Cryo methods is a requirement for participation).

What are the participation requirements?

Volunteers must be in good physical health, as the days are sometimes long and demanding, travel can be rugged, and accommodations are basic. Flexibility, team spirit and sense of humor are also important qualities.

What if I don’t speak Spanish?

Spanish language skill is a plus, but it is not a requirement. Both Spanish and Mayan translators will be assigned to you.

How much does it cost?

We ask volunteers to donate $1,200 to help defray medical mission expenses, in addition to paying your own airfare.

Can my spouse come too?

Priority is given to medical volunteers, PfS staff, translators, and Mobile Medical Mission sponsors. If there is space, your spouse is welcome to join us. Your spouse will also need to donate $1,200 and complete the Volunteer Application and Release and Waiver of Liability.

I would like to sponsor a Mobile Medical Mission. How do I do that?

The sponsorship fee is $3,000 and helps cover the cost of rural radio programs, diagnostic testing, in-country logistics and support. It also entitles you to participate as a non-medical support volunteer and help with logistics. Click here to donate directly via PayPal.

Are my participation and donations tax-deductible?

Partner for Surgery is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All donations are tax deductible.

Surgical Team Missions

How do we start?

  • Identify the Team: Identify a core group of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and OR personnel interested and committed to participate.
  • Select a Date: Select a date 6-8 months in advance and confirm availability with Partner for Surgery.
  • Nominate a Leader: Nominate a team leader to keep things on track and complete paperwork.
  • Collect expendable supplies: Collect the necessary medical supplies and drugs, to be carried in by team members. (Check with Partner for Surgery to see what will be needed.)
  • Schedule Flights: Schedule and arrange transportation to Guatemala
  • Ask for donations!

Who should be on the Team?

The ideal composition is 16 members: 3 surgeons, 3 anesthesiologists and 10 operating room (OR) staff and nurses. Three of each specialty assures that the mission will not be compromised if one of the surgeons or anesthesiologists drops out. You will need two OR techs in each OR, three nurses in the PACU, and three nurses in the post op area (which also serves as a pre op site). Pathologists are also helpful, insuring that results are turned around quickly.

What about paperwork?

Three months prior to the Mission, team members need to submit to the Team Leader their paperwork and copies of their licenses. Physicians need to be board-eligible or board-certified in their respective specialties, and actively practicing (retired specialists not actively practicing should not be the primary surgeon or anesthesiologist on any case but can assist other physicians in the operating room). Nurses and OR techs must also submit licenses but unlike physicians they can participate if retired. Residents in the specialties are acceptable understanding that they must function only under supervision.

What is the role of the Team Leader?

The team leader is responsible for each physician’s credentials and also must be able to attest to the competency of all members of the team. The team leader must document the number and type of cases along with complications. This information should be submitted to the local Partner for Surgery representative at the end of the Mission.

What does our Team need to bring?

We use operating rooms that are well equipped with standard anesthesia machines, monitoring equipment and surgical instruments. Teams can purchase all the necessary supplies from Globus Relief in Utah and have them shipped to Guatemala. The total costs for supplies and shipping is $4,000. We are working hard to reduce those costs in the future.

If you would rather collect supplies and bring them with you, we suggest you start 6 months before the mission. Retired OR personnel may be willing to volunteer for this. A secure room for storing supplies, preferably in a hospital, is essential.

How can we get the supplies we need donated?

Most companies have a process for donating supplies, and the most senior members of the Team should approach them about a donation. It works best to solicit companies that work with hospitals of the team members. (Ethicon, for example, has been generous about donating sutures). You can also start accumulating and re-sterilizing supplies that were opened for a case but not used.

How about medicines?

Drug representatives can of course be approached for donations of non-narcotics, and some non-narcotic medicines may be available for purchase in Guatemala. We may even have some left over from a previous Mission. Once you have decided to organize a Mission, our staff will be able to help you with local resource information. Americares is an excellent source for donated medicines. They do need a 10-week lead-time, charge a $200 application fee, and limit shipments to 2 per organization per year. For this reason, use your organization’s name, not Partner for Surgery in your application. Each Americares shipment contains 10 cases, and cases cannot be broken down. So if you need just a few ampules, for example, it is more practical to purchase them in Guatemala or bring them with you from the states.

What about narcotic medicines?

Guatemala has a list of medicines that cannot be brought into the country, and in general those medicines are narcotics. Violating Guatemalan law could jeopardize the whole Mission. Our staff can purchase the narcotic medicines in preparation for the arrival of your Mission, but they need a 2-month lead time in order to get approval from Guatemalan authorities.

How do we get the supplies and non-narcotic medicines to Guatemala?

Supplies and non-narcotic drugs should be carried on the plane by Team members. We recommend that each Team member have two large duffel bags to bring the supplies. The supplies in each bag should be listed and made available to customs. Some airlines may charge you for the second bag. A carry on bag for personal items should be sufficient for the week, especially since you will be wearing scrub suits every day (and the staff at the clinic will wash the dirty scrub suits so you always have clean suits available).

What will the Mission cost?

The cost to the team for one week in-country, is approximately $14,000, not including airfare. It does include:

  • $3,600: room/board for patients and family (see pic to right), transportation from their village to surgery, escort and interpretation. On average 60 patients are operated on in one week
  • $2,400: room/board for 16 Team members
  • $1,000:travel to and from airport, daily transportation
  • $2,500: clinic staff, translators, other personnel
  • $2,500: medicine purchased in the USA and in Guatemala (the drug cost is a major variable that depends on the success of soliciting donations)

Round trip tickets to Guatemala from the Washington, DC metro area typically run about $600; airfare is typically higher from other areas. On some teams the physicians cover half of everyone’s fare, others charge a sliding scale (physicians $900, nurses $600 and techs $300), and still others charge a flat rate of $350 and fund raise the rest.

How can we raise $14,000?

Teams can start by asking for $12,000 from their respective hospitals (many hospitals have philanthropic Boards). Drug and device representatives should be aggressively approached. These companies usually require the money to be given to a non-profit organization. Other corporations might also be interested. Team members who belong to large practice groups should approach their leadership. Some of them may even have a program of matching grants. Events like wine and cheese parties can be successful – charging each participant $50 as an entrance fee, plus collecting donations could easily raise $5,000. Local businesses and friends could be approached for individual contributions. The key to raising money is for each team member to be involved, each one soliciting money from a variety of sources. If the team is all from the same hospital or group practice, their efforts will more likely be noticed with many people willing to donate. Volunteers should understand that their involvement in such a worthwhile effort will draw support from many sources. Use Facebook to keep individual donors involved.

What is the typical schedule?

Usually teams evaluate and confirm diagnosis on all patients on Sunday, triage day and then operates from Monday through Thursday. After rounds on Friday morning, they can leave and spend Friday and Saturday in Antigua, a lovely colonial town which has excellent restaurants and shopping.

Do we need to get vaccinated?

All providers should check with their personal physician about vaccinations. Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccine along with malaria prophylaxis may be recommended.

Will we be safe?

Team Members should be aware that Guatemala, like many developing countries and our own inner cities, can be at times unsafe and there is a risk involved. We have had no episodes for our groups, but caution is important. The Team will be staying at nearby accommodation and transported in a Partner for Surgery van.

Can my spouse come too?

Priority is given to medical volunteers, PfS staff, translators, and Mobile Medical Mission sponsors. If there is space, your spouse is welcome to join us. Your spouse will also need to donate $1,200 and complete the Volunteer Application and Release and Waiver of Liability.

If we had to summarize the attitude of the teams, it would be this: teams are so enthusiastic about their experience that they insist that their group returns next year. We can assure you that it will be a rewarding experience for everyone with the enthusiasm transmitted to the hospital, nursing and surgical staff back home. Like anything worthwhile, it takes some effort organizing, but the rewards are great!