More than a weekday job: HIV outreach camps in Trinidad
by Dr. Valluri Pattabhi Rama Rao
Port of Spain, Trinidad: I am a medical doctor from India, and have worked in and out of India for 23 years. I came to Trinidad and Tobago with my wife, herself a UNV volunteer Gynaecologist, in November 2003. She was in the second batch of UNV volunteer medical doctors in Trinidad.
In September 2004, I volunteered my services at Queens Park Counselling Centre and Clinic (QPCC&C), which is situated in the capital, Port of Spain. I observed cases, treatment regimens, counselling techniques etc. during the six months that I worked there.
In April 2005, I joined UNV myself and was formally posted to QPCC&C under the Ministry of Health. The total staff including medical, paramedical, administrative and supporting staff is about 105 people. There are three field clinics attached to Port Of Spain Clinic. We do field clinics on a daily basis during week days, covering outreach centres in the south of Trinidad.
Queens Park Counselling Centre gives comprehensive treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), voluntary counselling and blood testing for HIV and venereal diseases, plus public education activities regarding STIs.
After six months I was posted to San Fernando. Here I worked in the main clinic as well as in field clinics in rotation with other doctors. Since October 2006, due to a shortage of doctors, I travelled daily to do field clinics in five outreach centres in the south.
Over the two and half years that I spent in Trinidad I had the opportunity to build acquaintances and friendships with a number of local people. I was approached by the Rotary Club of Princes Town to assist in a free medical outreach project at Williamsville, one of the remote areas in the south of the country. This 'camp' was assisted by one of the UNV volunteer doctors living near me.
This was only the beginning. More such camps were organized on more such Sundays. Enthusiastic voluntary participation by UNV volunteer doctors in these camps increased. The camp in Biche which was held on 5 November 2006 had 10 UNV volunteer doctors! These camps brought together these diverse groups of doctors to work together.
After two initial camps, I involved my clinic QPCC&C South in these outreach camps. My supervisor has wholeheartedly supported my initiative. The ancillary staff at my clinic willingly came forward to work in these camps on Sundays. And in all these camps we have been talking about and distributing literature to the locale populace about the services rendered by UNV volunteers in their country and globally.
These efforts bore fruits in coordinating the four medical camps we held in various parts of the country to celebrate International Volunteer Day on 4-5 December 2006.
With organizational and moral support from our Resident Representative and our Programme Officer we organized free medical camps in partnership with the Rotary Club and the auspicious Ministry of Health. The other participants were The Diabetic association of Trinidad and Tobago, Vision Opticals, and the Cancer Association of Trinidad and Tobago. Our 'QPCC&C North and South' has participated in all the four camps and did voluntary counselling and blood testing.
More camps ensued, more partners got involved, and the volunteers initiated new activities such as an HIV/AIDS 'walkathon'. I believe we will have many more outreach camps in the months to come.
I realize that we have come a long way since our early days in Trinidad. We created an informal partnership between UNV volunteer doctors, local doctors and the Ministry of Health. We have introduced voluntary counselling and testing for HIV in all these camps. And we have been able to spread the word about the UNV volunteer spirit. I would like to thank UNV for giving me the opportunity to do such satisfying work.
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