photo of Michelle Kassen, PB í92

A Post-bacís medical mission

Michelle Kassen, PB í92, traveled through southern central India during the winter of 1999 with Mediciti, which sponsors REACH, Rural Effective Affordable Community Health Care. REACH operates a 150-bed hospital in Ghanpur village, 30 miles outside of Hyderabad, India, in addition to 29 health clinics throughout Medchal County, serving about 37,000 people. "The local people donít exist on hand outs from REACH," says Kassen, "but rather they take responsibility for their health needs." Each village has a community health volunteer (CHV) who receives intensive training in basic community health issues. CHVs compile data on the number of pregnancies in the village, the immunization status of children, acute illness statistics and so on, and in return for their efforts receive an honorarium. Most CHVs are women and become highly regarded in their respective communities because of their involvement, Kassen says. CHVs together with physicians and health supervisors are responsible for immunizing 95 percent of children under the age of 5 for measles, mumps, rubella and polio. "The most touching aspect of my journey," Kassen says, "was the hospitality of the people. I come from an entirely different cultural background, yet I felt that I became a part of many of their families. I didnít learn Hindi or Telugu, but rather how to be a friend, how to be a human being."

Kassen earned her MD from Loyola U in Chicago in June and is now pursuing her masterís in public health at Harvard. She has participated in several other medical missions, most recently in China to study acupuncture, qi gong and other traditional Chinese medicines at Xiían Medical U. "The unfortunate part of the trip was the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy by the United States during the Serbia-Kosovo crisis," says Kassen. Though the U.S. embassy in Beijing closed because of the escalating violence of Chinese student protests, Kassen says she "didnít encounter any anti-American sentiments. In fact, I made friendships that I hope will last a lifetime." Kassen also traveled to Lithuania in 1998 with an ob/gyn physician to exchange medical expertise: "The neonatal programs in Lithuania are just starting to take shape. A delivery room may rely on a small space heater during the very cold winter months. There is a definite need for donations of basic medical provisions and more advanced equipment."

Kassen invites members of the Bryn Mawr community to contact her at mkassen@hsph.harvard.edu for help on finding information on any of these missions. "I believe that the precious gift of knowledge and cultures must be shared. It certainly enriches everyoneís life."

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