Dr. Suja Mathai’s Medical Mission Trip to Remote Panama Communities

July 1, 2024

By Dr. Suja Mathai

Spanning a brief yet impactful three days, the medical mission trip to Panama’s mountainous indigenous reservation was not only a testament to humanitarian aid but also an immersion into the simplicity of nature. The team led by myself and Nurse Practitioner Marie Castor treated over 180 families, with an average family size of seven to nine individuals in limited resource settings. Language was a huge barrier and our pastor helped in translation. We drove four hours from David, Panama, to the mountainous region called La Gran Sabana.

Poor hygiene & water purification lead to infectious diseases & malnourishment

This was an area where infectious disease ailments were prevalent due to poor hygiene and inadequate water purification systems. People had no access to antiparasitic medication. They had to travel by foot for hours to get to pharmacy or medical facilities. The most common ailment was intestinal worm from very small children to adults.

Patients had malnutrition due to these infections and vitamin deficiencies. Other common complaints included:

  • Joint pain.
  • Headaches.
  • Stomach aches.
  • Cough.
  • Women’s health issues.
  • General body pain.
  • Rash.
  • Dental and vision related symptoms.
Dr. Suja Mathai, her son Ethan, Nurse Practitioner Marie Castor and Pastor Rey Edward providing care under a makeshift outdoor tent on their medical mission trip to Panama | ID Care | New Jersey
Dr. Suja Mathai (front left), her son Ethan (back left), Marie Castor, NP, (back right with stethoscope) and Pastor Rey Edward (front right)

We were able to provide antiparasitic medications purchased in Panama (many not available in the United States) to all of the families that came to our health clinic in addition to antibiotics, pedialyte and symptomatic treatments for complaints.

Makeshift tent was treatment clinic on medical mission trip

We made a makeshift tent with tarps as our clinic while people stood in line for their turn. We also had a local government team that came with vaccinations, and the entire community got vaccinated, from newborns to adults. The local healthcare team was very thankful as some of these medications were not within the means of people to purchase.

Medical services amidst natural serenity

Amidst this altruistic service, the team’s nights were spent under tents, torch lights as we had no electricity, and enveloped by a breathtaking panorama of stars akin to a planetarium, with daily nourishment coming from meals heartily prepared over an open flame. This harmonious blend of service and nature’s serenity underscored the profound connection between health and environment.

More medical mission trips on the horizon

We look forward to more of these medical mission trips in resource limited settings and to making at least one day better in the lives of these people.

What I learned from this trip is to be thankful for every little thing in life that we take for granted! Yes, even access to clean tap water is a blessing.

Infectious Disease Blog, Joint Infections, Mathai, Suja, Rashes