The Humanitarian Side of Dermatology

Over 3 billion people in over 125 countries don´t have access to dermatologic care of any kind! Whereas 12.4% of family medicine visits occur due to dermatological problems, 59% of patients in Uganda were found to have dermatological problems during a humanitarian mission in 2013, stress Kesmarszky, Jakkel and Szabo (2016), in this report. The associated mortality rate in these area was as high as those of meningitis, hepatitis B and rheumatic heart disease, they argue.

There are many ways you can offer a helping hand to humanity as a dermatologist, and lots of stories about dermatologists who´ve enjoyed spending their time working with other people in mind. You can travel or support an organization in your own country, or you can get specific training and/or participate in missions during or after your study through your university or health institution.

Help At Home

Have you heard of Camp Discovery? It´s the Amercian Academy of Dermatology´s week-long camp for kids and teenagers with serious skin conditions. They enjoy fishing, boating, swimming, and arts and crafts. Why not get involved in the next camp or donate funds to support this wonderful effort to improve children’s´ lives? Volunteers can select the week that is most convenient to them, and all costs, including transportation, are taken care of by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Suzanne Olbricht, MD, FAAD is from Burlington, Massachusetts. They supports the Academy´s SPOT Skin Cancer initiative by raising funds for a shade structure at the Smithsonian National Zoo and is able to give back in a way that´s meaningful to her and have a lasting impact. Their magazine Aspire documents stores about the dermatology community and how individual dermatologists´ volunteer work is helping needy patients and advancing skin health. You can donate to this cause even if you´re not from the USA.

Volunteering Overseas

There are many benefits to be had and enjoyed by volunteers who offer their time abroad. They include:

  • Learning about a different culture
  • Sharing skills and expertise
  • Gaining perspective on the impact of wealthy countries on less developed countries
  • Learning a foreign language
  • Getting inspired by others
  • Gaining expertise and knowledge in your field of expertise

So what might you see when out on a mission after an earthquake, for example? In Yucatan, Mexico, sunscreen is a luxury and 12.7% of 1071 Mayan patients seen by dermatologists volunteering there required sunscreen for conditions like photodermatitis, polymorphous light eruption, NMSC, vitiligo, melasma and post-inflammatory pigment changes, for example.

Have you ever wanted to go on a disaster relief mission? Dermatologists can! During one disaster relief mission in Haiti, dermatologists saw scabies, head lice, tinea capitis and allergic/contact dermatitis. These conditions were exacerbated by overcrowding and poor living conditions. One boy was thought to have injuries from the earthquake, but he actually had xeroderma pigmentosum. He had several AKs and squamous cell cancers. Another boy with a broken leg had HIV-associated epidermodysplasia verrucoformis.

Though the facilities available when volunteering abroad vary considerably and may be very limited, some missions include excellent supplies and sophisticated equipment. The facilities available during a mission in Haiti involved a 50-bed trauma emergency room, 12 operating rooms, a 20-bed recovery room, a 30-bed intensive care unit, 400 intermediate-care beds, full radiologic and laboratory support and 500 minimal-care beds, all neatly situated on USNS Comfort during Operation Unified Response Haiti.

The ADD, mentioned above, provides funding for 15 senior dermatology residents every year. They go to Boswana for 4-6 weeks, and learn how to practice dermatology with finite resources, caring for patients with tropical and HIV-related conditions. The airfare is paid for and you´re given a stipend for accommodation and food.

Another MOHS surgeon in Florida, Dr. Strasswimmer, teaches cutaneous surgery methods to practitioners in Africa. In Africa, there is a high incidence of NMSC before the age of 8 in albinism patients. Their dark-skinned mothers often don´t know how to take care of children with albinism, which occurs in one out of 1,800 newborns. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there´s a care unit for people with albinism. The building houses a pharmacy and compounding facility where cost-effective sunscreen is made; a training center for local and outreach sun protection; people with albinism are trained in machine sewing to enable them to work inside; there´s a team that visits surrounding towns and offers cryotherapy and sun protection education.

Other Solutions

Another method of helping people abroad is through teledermatology. It reduced the number of face-to-face visits needed, and some can occasionally be used for international diagnosis, in remote, sparsely-populated areas. Photos and patient chart information can be sent to the USA, Europe or Australia, or wherever you´re practicing. Ask your organization if you can carry on helping in this way once your mission has ended. Here is a story about a new global telemedicine initiative helping people in Africa.

Train with The Military

The military has three dermatology training institutions that offer residency training programs and a dermatopathology fellowship program. Could this be a viable option for you? Here´s more information. Juan A. Rosario-Collazo, MD, won a Humanitarian Service Medal during his years of service.

Useful Organizations

Check out young pioneer for inspiration - Jill S. Waibel, MD just won the JDD Humanitarian Award in 2016. 

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