By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Imagine driving nearly five hours along bumpy, gravel roads to reach a remote part of Bangladesh to spend seven months treating dozens of people a day for malaria.
Imagine hearing gunshots in the night while working amid a long-running tribal and religious conflict and providing aid and supplies to 300 people who were burned out of their homes.
These were the experiences of Dr. Margo White, a Cincinnati pediatrician who returned in late December from a tour of duty with Doctors Without Borders.
White, 39, is a Tennessee native who has practiced in Cincinnati for about eight years. She had been on brief medical missions to China and Honduras but had wanted to try a stint with Doctors Without Borders for years.
"(Doctors Without Borders) goes into a lot of places with conflict or right after a natural disaster. It's pretty intense," she said.
White recalls the Chittagong hill tracts as a land of rolling hills, rice paddies and palm trees dotted by tribal villages. Half the people were Muslim and nearly all the rest were Buddhist or Hindu.
"I was one of the first American women they had ever met," White said. "They were very nice people. They asked lots of questions. They seemed surprised that there were any poor people in America."
White split time between two established medical clinics and a temporary clinic that required a two-hour hike into the hills and an overnight stay in a bamboo hut.
Although electricity "would come and go," and pit toilets were the norm, the clinics had reliable medical supplies, White said. For her, one of the biggest surprises was learning that people who needed hospital care had to supply their own medicines.
Now living in Oakley and working part time for a clinic at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, White said she plans to spend the next few months enjoying American life. But she plans to go on another tour.
"They're doing a lot in Africa. I've always wanted to go there," White said.
PARENTS VS. PARENTS:
For several years, organized parent groups have questioned the safety of some childhood vaccines. Some families refuse vaccinations for their children because they fear potential side effects.
Now, another parent group is criticizing hold-out parents for exposing children to the risks of preventable disease. The Parents for Prevention coalition was launched this month by the Vancouver, Wash.-based Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases (PKIDs). Organizers say too many parents are buying into unproven concerns about vaccines.
"These concerns ... have caused some parents to withhold immunizations, thereby doing the one thing they are trying to avoid - harming their children," said Trish Parnell, executive director of PKIDs.
Information: (360) 695-0293 or www.pkids.org
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