Friday, February 08, 2013
Physician takes her dream of caring to Africa
When Anne Marie Moukala-Cadet, D.O., came to the United States in 1990, she had a dream for her native country of Cameroon, Africa. She envisioned a day when primary medical care would be easily accessible for the family and friends she left behind.
Anne Marie Moukala-Cadet, DO, left, has made mission trips to Haiti and Ghana to help care for patients with a wide range of medical needs. On Feb. 9 she will journey to Cameroon to begin work on establishing a community clinic in the African country.
This month she will take a break from her practice at UHS Primary Care Endicott to spend two weeks in Cameroon as the mission director of a new project to build a health clinic that will be staffed by a primary care physician and registered nurses.
“My mother brought me to the United States for an education to become a doctor and I always knew that someday I would be a part of trying to make a positive difference back in Cameroon,” Dr. Moukala-Cadet said.
Cameroon is in west-central Africa, bordering Nigeria. It is slightly larger than California, with an estimated population that tops 20 million. According to the World Fact Book published by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the country reports a life expectancy rate of only 54.71 years, due largely to the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS.
Cameroon ranks ninth in maternal mortality rates. Except in the major cities, healthcare facilities tend to be low-quality and poorly equipped. Many people go through their entire lifetime without ever seeing a doctor.
Dr. Moukala-Cadet knows about that from personal experience. When she was 12 years old, her father died after a car crash because he was unable to receive a blood transfusion that could have saved his life. Recently, her 38-year-old cousin died from a stroke because she had never been diagnosed and treated for hypertension.
“Growing up in Cameroon, there was always a feeling of death and misery,” Dr. Moukala-Cadet said. “So much of it could be prevented if people had good continuity of primary care and access to the proper medications. We need to close the gap.”
Dr. Moukala-Cadet went on her first medical mission in 2008 to Ghana, Africa. In 2010 she was part of a mission to start a clinic in Port au Prince, Haiti, following the devastating earthquake there. Those trips helped her formulate a plan for Cameroon.
She met Dwain Illman, MD, a retired emergency medicine physician from Indiana. He introduced her to architect James Gray, who agreed to create the plans for a clinic in Cameroon.
Local villages donated land for the clinic and fundraising is under way for the estimated $250,000 project that also includes guest houses for visiting physicians and medical specialists from the United States and other developed countries.
Dr. Moukala-Cadet said the clinic will be built by a team from Cameroon, and community leaders are encouraging the local people to take the initiative to help the project succeed. She expects that the clinic will be completed by 2015.
The project is partnered with Cameroon Baptist Convention, a nonprofit group that manages five hospitals in Cameroon. Dr. Moukala-Cadet has also formed an alliance with DOCARE International, the mission branch of the American
Osteopathic Association, to help support the mission through financial contributions and the coordination of volunteer assistance from around the world.
UHS also is offering its support to the effort, said Jacob Thompson, PharmD, associate director of the Pharmacy at UHS Hospitals.
“Our Pharmacy Department is supporting this mission by sending multiple doses of some of the most essential types of medications a clinic would need," Dr. Thompson said.
Dr. Moukala-Cadet said she has received encouragement and support from many of her colleagues at UHS. Several of them have already made donations to the cause. She hopes that, in the future, there might be an opportunity for UHS medical students and residents to complete an outside rotation in Cameroon.
“Dr. Moukala-Cadet’s efforts are meritorious and we want to be supportive of them to whatever extent possible,” said Matthew J. Salanger, president and chief executive officer of UHS. “It is definitely a project that deserves our attention.”
During her trip to Cameroon this month, Dr. Moukala-Cadet will meet with community leaders about the clinic, but she will spend most of her time providing medical care to the people in the villages. She plans to make a medical mission to Cameroon every year.
“The clinic was just an idea that kept growing and growing in my mind and then things started to fall into place after I discussed this idea with Dr. Illman,” she said. “He mentored and guided me throughout the whole process.”
Dr. Moukala-Cadet also credits her husband, Huveland, a native of Haiti, with encouraging her efforts to improve medical care for people in developing countries.
“He has supported me every step of the way,” she said.
Dr. Moukala-Cadet is well-known for providing outstanding care to her patients in Endicott, N.Y., but she believes doctors must think and act for the benefit of those beyond America’s borders as well.
“As healthcare providers, we can’t forget about the rest of the world,” she said. “It sounds impossible, but I believe we can be part of the solution to improve healthcare globally, one village at a time.”