Medical Missionaries Change the World
By Ken Walker-
Although it’s been two decades since Dr. Hannah Gay was a missionary to Ethiopia, her faith has garnered a good bit of media attention in recent months. That’s because her work in Mississippi is credited with curing a baby born with the AIDS virus.
As my story in the May issue of Christianity Today pointed out, the child has been off antiretroviral drugs for two and a half years.
While additional research is necessary to verify her findings, if they stand up it will offer hope to several hundred thousands of infants worldwide who are born with HIV infection annually.
More Cases Exist
Unfortunately, tight space in many modern media outlets means that not everything makes it into print, such as the case I wrote about that parallels Dr. Gay’s work.
It involved an AIDS program in Zambia coordinated by Dr. John Spurrier, a missionary from Pennsylvania. He started using antiretroviral drugs at a mission hospital in 2005. Two years later, rates for adults testing positive for HIV had declined from 20 percent to 14.5 percent.
“You haven’t cured them,” Dr. Spurrier told The Patriot-News, a central Pennsylvania newspaper. “You’ve just so totally suppressed the virus they gain weight and live a normal life.”
Treasure Trove of Stories
Comments from Rick Allen, president of Project MedSend—which pays down medical debt for physicians and other medical personnel who serve on the mission field—also didn’t make it into print.
“There is a treasure trove of stories out there about the ways God is changing lives,” Allen says. “We have individuals changing the face of AIDS treatment in a country and saving thousands of lives. What’s going on is absolutely amazing. You do have miraculous things happening like with Dr. Gay.”
Ray Martin, director of Christian Connections for International Health, expects to see additional progress in the field.
He credits Christians with focusing more attention in recent years on community health improvement. That yields more long-term benefits than hospital triage care, although hospitals still play a vital role in advancing treatment and research in needy areas.
“One example where I think Christian-inspired missionaries and nationals made a huge contribution to global health is the influence of Christian-led pilot projects,” Martin says. “This culminated in the declaration by the World Health Organization that community-based primary health care was the ideal strategy for developing countries.”
Such care extends in multi-faceted directions. Two examples:
- In Nigeria, gynecologist Steven Shepherd treats 125 patients a week as he supervises a clinic for poor Muslims. That includes performing or assisting in 250 surgical repairs the past year for women suffering from painful obstetric fistula.
- Drs. Travis Johnson and Jessica Ankey recently initiated an outreach to children in a remote section of Uganda with one of the world’s highest rates of sickle cell disease. “Hopefully through prayer, education and medicine, years will be added to the lives of these children,” Dr. Johnson says.
Such examples prompt Allen to say that there is a largely-unreported story involving health care. Not only are Christian medical professionals making amazing advances, now they are replicating themselves.
“We’re sending trainers to help national healthcare professionals and building up a whole generation of doctors, nurses and dentists by investing themselves in education now that the Lord is lifting up nationals,” Allen says.
The Field Expands
This isn’t to say that only Americans are involved in these good works. God is also sending people from other countries to the mission field.
By Allen’s estimate around three-fourths of people in health care missions come from North America. However, he says a growing percentage of these medical missionaries come from other places.
“You have these wonderful things happening,” Allen says. “This generation is willing to go. This thing is in growth mode globally.”
That indeed is good news.