Alinea Noronha

As we approached the gates of Holy Spirit, Maggotty, the voices resounded in song “welcome, welcome, welcome, ” they sang with such love. We were surrounded by a sea of smiling faces, and I was moved by their welcome. We were visiting Holy Spirit Clinic in Jamaica. The women at this clinic waited the whole day to be seen and had come from afar because they heard a woman’s doctor would be there that day. They were ages 12 to 89 and their patience, love and advocacy for one another taught me the importance of community in shaping lives. They were rich in the resources that mattered, each other.

There was one woman in the clinic. She was 56 years old and mother to 14 children, but had never ever had a pap smear in her life.  As in rural areas in the United States, smaller villages in Jamaica have a smaller number of physicians, leaving the few physicians that are present burdened with an enormous patient load. Through partnership with local ministries and hospitals, Medicine in Action works to support these efforts to provide primary care throughout Jamaica. I watched as the medicine in action physicians spent time counseling these women on what is normal and what is not, basic anatomy of their bodies, and how to take care of themselves and their children. The woman in the community asked such thoughtful questions, with eagerness to learn about their own health and the health of their children.  I remember one woman ask “what can I do to help make sure my son does not get sick again?” She taught me how important women were in advocating for their children and their families.

In addition to clinics, Medicine in Action has a partnership with a local hospital providing gynecologic surgical support. The hospital referred woman to MIA who desired hysterectomies or myomectomies due to fibroids. Some of these woman wait 3 years, with fibroids as big as a full term pregnancy accompanied by pain and bleeding. Due to limited providers and resources, the government places funding for quality of life procedures such as removal of benign fibroids lower on the list. However, as one woman told me “this bleeding is more than annoying, especially when I am in the fields all day and am not prepared for it, and sometimes the pain is unbearable.” I understand the government’s position, and see the role of MIA in partnership with the public hospital in not only providing these woman with surgeries but teaching residents at the local hospital how to do these procedures as well. The patients have follow up care with the local hospital and through phone rounding and phone calls with MIA.   The mission is run twice a year with post operative follow up through the public hospital and through MIA phone calls.

As the Sugars Scholar, I was blessed to have heard and seen how women in Jamaica live and what they consider important. Lila Watson once said “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” I had the privilege to witness how Medicine in Action, founded by a Jamaican doctor, works so closely with local hospitals and communities, were welcomed and ingrained into such a vibrant community. I heard about what an amazing person Mr. Chong was and all the wonderful things he did for his community, and saw firsthand how his family continued to care for and serve their community. I was welcomed into the family, led by the compassionate and witty Mrs. Chong, surrounded by leaders in the field of obstetrics, gynecology oncology, and Urogynecology. They have taught me through their passion for caring for women, the importance of family and community in shaping health.