Group urges doctors to volunteer for medical missions

By Alexander Villafania

DAVAO CITY, DAVAO DEL SUR—For nearly 40 years, Maharlika Charity Foundation (MCF) has been doing medical missions in some of the most remote places in the Philippines, especially in provinces in the South.

Organized by a group of visionary doctors, the MCF has helped thousands of people with visual impairment and dental deformity, especially those living in war-ravaged provinces.

The MCF, founded by a group of volunteer dentists and ophthalmologists in Davao City in 1973, was established as a way to reach out to Filipinos displaced by conflict in remote parts of Mindanao.

While they have conducted ophthalmological missions to help those with cataracts and squints, the majority of their medical missions have been for free oral surgery especially for those with cleft lip and palate deformities.

The group, composed of 50 doctors with various specialties has traveled in and around Mindanao, including Misamis, Zamboanga, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, and Surigao.

At least four or five doctors and another ten nurses participate during these medical missions. Usually, they are assisted by local government units in setting up temporary operating centers but some missions are also done in established medical institutions.

Just recently, the MCF organized a medical mission offering free cleft lip and palate surgery at Zamboanga City Medical Center where they were able to do surgery on 50 patients. They also partnered with the Tzu Chi Foundation and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They also got assistance from the United States Army to hold the medical mission.

In an interview, MCF vice president for public relations Dr. Benedict Edward Valdez said that the group conducts monthly medical missions.

Despite the dangers of going into a war-ravaged locale, the volunteer doctors remain steadfast in their goal of reaching out and helping the underserved sector of society.

Valdez said that their focus on cleft lip and palate surgery is largely due to the fact that incidences are high for such a deformity.

It is also one of the most emotionally discomfiting physical defects, with many children becoming emotionally scarred due to constant maltreatment from others.

“Cleft lip and palate incidences are quite high in the Philippines, about one for every 1,000. There are areas in the South with children and old people who have cleft lip and palate. We want to give them hope, that they do not have to hide and they can be part in rebuilding their society,” Valdez said.

He added that each cleft lip and palate surgery could cost around P20,000 or more depending on the size of deformity.

“The mission helps these people by removing the cost of the surgery. Many people don’t have that kind of money. However, we will help anyone who would need surgery,” said Valdez.

Valdez said that part of their advocacy is to get more doctors to volunteer and provide their medical skills to help more people.

More than just financial assistance for them to conduct each of their missions, the group wants to develop linkages with other doctors, medical institutions, and foundations. The MCF sees these partnerships as a means to share their experiences to other professionals.

Moreover, Valdez stressed that they hope to work with international medical organizations to highlight their medical projects, which can be replicated in other areas.

“Ours is over and above the need for financial gain. We’re hoping to show the world how our doctors can manage to share their skills even as they go through such dangers,” Valdez said.

(Photo by Maharlika Charity Foundation)

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