Ecuador: Country Doctors
On rough roads and remote rivers
June 14, 2007
Mike Seely is a San Francisco-based filmmaker working as a freelance cinematographer and associate producer at Stanford's Program in Bioethics and Film. His film Radio Grito, about a Spanish language radio show for migrant farm workers in California, won Best Short Documentary at the 2006 Cinequest FIlm Festival. Seely completed his MA in documentary film production at Stanford University in 2005.
"The decisions that will change our country will not come from above with political decisions. They will come from below -- working with the people." -- Dr. Edgar Rodas.
That's not a quote you would expect to hear from a government official, but Dr. Rodas happens to be a former minister of health for Ecuador. This from-the-ground-up philosophy is what motivated him to start an innovative rural health program. Frustrated by Ecuador's lack of health resources for poor people, Rodas created the Cinterandes Foundation in 1995 with a volunteer group of surgeons who shared his ideals.
As a medical student in the early 1960s, he was inspired by the work of Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere). As part of this initiative, an American-run hospital boat regularly visited Ecuador's Pacific coast to provide surgeries and medical care for poor people. He vowed to someday emulate this approach and help his own country to better provide medical care. Decades later, equipped with a mobile hospital truck bought with private donations and help from the Ecuadorian government, he and his small but dedicated team set out to change the landscape of rural health in Ecuador.
Last year, I met with Rodas at a conference in San Francisco. He invited me back to his country to see for myself the challenges Ecuadorian doctors face in providing health services to those in underserved and hard-to-reach rural areas, who make up more than a third of the population.
From cities perched high in the Andes to fishing villages on the coast and on into the Amazon jungle, I traveled with members of his team as they performed surgeries inside a medically equipped truck and boat. I soon learned that the surgical care the doctors provide is only a small part of what the organization offers. Rodas expanded his mobile-surgery program and began recruiting primary-care doctors to cover specific remote geographic areas, those rarely touched by modern medicine.
After days of slogging up hills through misty cloud forests with Pablo Armijos, one of the program's doctors, I saw firsthand the sheer remoteness of the Andean villages, where the only way to get around is by foot or mule. Armijos carries just a small backpack filled with medicine and syringes. "Sometimes it's not possible to go by the book in practicing medicine here," he says. "We have to improvise and try to do what we can with what we have."
I also spent time with Dr. Miriann Mora as she made her rounds with a traditional healer, Eulalia Maria, high up in the Ranas indigenous zone. The two women worked fluidly together, with Maria pointing out medicinal plants as they passed along the mountain trails. I hiked from house to house with these two energetic young doctors, who grew up a few hours by car from each other, but whose medical practices are worlds apart.
For Rodas and his team, health is about more than just medical care and relates to all aspects of life. As one patient said after successful gallstone surgery, "Everything is worse when you're not healthy. There's no way to work, no way to earn anything at all."
In 12 years, Cinterandes has carried out about 5,200 operations and now provides medical care for more than 50,000 people across Ecuador. The medical services are free, supported mostly by private funding from the United States and Europe. As for the future, Rodas plans to expand his project with the help of his son, a surgeon living in Florida, who will return to Ecuador in a few years to continue his father's work.
-- Mike Seely
Joel Savitch - Fort Lauderdale, Florida
I am a US citizen and an M.D. (grad from Antigua and approved by W.H.O.). I would like to work in Ecuador and promote wellness. Does anyone know whether I can use my M.D. from Antigua to practice in Ecuador? and where would I apply? Thanks.
James Montesinos - Rochester, NY
I am a physician (radiologist) born and trained in the US but of Ecuadorian heritage. My family is actually from Cuenca and knows Dr. Rodas. This has inspired me to get involved and was fascinating to watch. I was rendered speechless watching the "gunea pig" scan. If the shaman only knew what we call CT in this country!
Peter - New York, NY
The story of Dr. Rojas' efforts and the accomplishments of the Cinterandes Foundation are inspiring. I am also inspired by people like Mike Seely who share stories like this one with the rest of us for the benefit of humanity. I am certain that this Frontline segment will encourage many and hope that it garners support for this cause.
Michel Aboutanos - Richmond, Virginia
It is simply wonderful to see the incredible work that Dr. Rodas is doing, presented in such a heart inspiring way. It is even more rewarding to have worked with him and his team, and also his son Edgar. Our Trauma Program at the Virginia Commonwealth University has been collaborating with the Cinterandes Foundation since 2003 to improve trauma care in the rural areas. It has been a priviledge to work with Dr. Rodas, and I strongly encourage anyone to help him achieve his vision of providing access to essential health care to all Ecuadorian Communities, especially the poor. I applaud Mike Seely and Frontline/World for responding to Dr. Rodas's invitation and doing this wounderful presentation. With my Best wishes, Michel Aboutanos
Patrice Jean-Baptiste - Milton, MA
After watching this video with my current events class, we were all particularly impressed with the fact that one man's determination had an impact on an entire community. We are very happy to have learned
from Dr. Rogas' model of citizenship.
Pedro Aulestia - Waco, TX
I am from Ecuador and about to graduate from Baylor University in Texas in May 2009. Dr. Rodas' work inspires me to find a very feasible way to help the people. I am truly amazed at what this man does. It is worthy of respect. I think that it is on the hands of Ecuadorians, like myself, and my generation in general to not only make healthcare possible, but also real economic growth. It will be done. Thank you for your inspiration. Truly great documentary.
Ian Fisk - Juneau, Alaska
Very inspiring. This makes me want to follow up my recent visit to Ecuador by donating to or somehow helping the efforts of Dr. Rodas and others like him. It also caused me to think about what all Americans, as individuals and through our government, can do to reverse years of misguided spending on warfare and instead support health care for our neighbors in Latin America. We have a lot of mistakes to repair but I believe it is simply a matter of will to change our emphasis and we certainly must do so. We have the moral imperative to share our wealth in positive ways and to care more for not only our own sick and poor, but obviously for the poor in Ecuador and all other nations. Thank you Frontline for a great piece.
marlene p - las vegas, nv
It is really touching to see people helping people and I wish the whole world was that way we need people like that here too or maybe I should live in jungles to get medical help for me and my children..god bless USA
Sara Carrera - San Francisco, California
Soy de Peru y la realidad geografica con Ecuador es muy parecida, especialmente cuando los medicos tienen que hacer travesias larguisimas por los rios para llegar a curar a los mas necesitados y alejados de las principales ciudades, porque no hay otro medio como llegar. Es el corazon humano que se junta para ayudar a nuestros hermanos.Saludos,
claudia hodari hodari - puerto villamil, ecuador
Excellent work, congratulations, and maybe you can advise me on how to contact a volunteer doctor, preferably a surgeon, ob/gyn, or general family practicioner to live in the Galapagos Islands - Isabela Island and be the FIRST in a town of 2,500 where turtles have better health care than humans ? Please and thank you.
Travis McBride - Allen, Texas
Seeing the teams of doctors selflessly aid the people of Ecuador is truly inspiring. It's great to see these people sacrificing a career they could be pursuing and making a lot of money for one in which they help the needy. While the help seems to be stretched thin none of the doctors seems to be complaining and even took to learning some natural healing from the local shamans. It's wonderful to see just how much of a difference a small handful of people can make when they really put their hearts in to it.
Patrick - Allen, TX
I thought this story was great and a real eye opener on the medical struggles that Ecuador faces. When the article talks about performing surgeries in trucks and boats I was so impressed with the determination of these doctors to help their fellow man. I am so encouraged by the action that Dr. Rodas has taken in order to make a difference and work towards a change. I only hope the Ecuadorian government takes notice and decides to change their obviously faulty system of health care.
I am so proud to be a friend of Dr.Edgar Rodas. I met him when he was Health Minister during the presidency of Dr. Jamil Mahuad. He was an inspiration for me since at that time I had just established a Foundation for education of masters degree in memory of my husband, and at that time he convinced me that anything that you want to do for your country, more or less you have to do it alone, without expectations of help from the government. Thank you, Edgar, you are an inspiration for many human beings. Bravo, I admire for your work, you are a patriot without limits and have a immense heart, that nowadays is so rare.
Pat Escandon - New Haven, Ct.
I have the honor and pleasure to have participated and worked shoulder to shoulder with Edgar Rodas,MD and the entire team of young Cuencano doctors in the rain forest of Ecuador, not once but several times. I take particular pride in calling him a friend and I will love to do it again. Pat Escandon, MD
Mike Garcia - Chicago, IL
Traditionally, I respond to what I've watched on Frontline WORLD and/or Frontline with some skepticism due to some bias presented by the program or dispatcher; however, Ecuador: Country Doctors by Mike Seely was simply inspiring without bias. It was well reported/delivered and I fell in love with the humanity and cultural recognition the doctors gave the forgotten people of their poor country. Dr. Rodas said it best at the end of the piece: when people are given the ability to take ownership of their lives and solve their own problems, things get done, progress is made. Government doesn't solve problems, they more times than not create the problems. Fantastically delivered Mr.Seely, superb.
Lupi Nicholls-Reyes - Miami, FL
I admire the work of Dr. Rodas in Ecuador. I know the need of health care in Ecuador among poor people. May the Lord keep on blessing his efforts.
Chukwumuanya Igboekwu - Kontagora, Niger State, Nigeria
I am a medical doctor working in one of Nigeria's rural communities in the northern part of the country. I am so fascinated to learn about what Dr. Rodas is doing in Ecuador. I understand all the challenges this kind of work entails, because I run a similar rural mobile clinic in rural Niger State. All I can say to Dr. Rodas is well done.
I like this story and what would I say is may god bless this man and how I wish the time will come when I too can help others like he has in this story.
Sarah - Boston, MA
Bravo! It inspires me to hear your story! I was a health volunteer in the Peace Corps in Ecuador for three years. I will soon graduate as an R.N./B.S.N. and aspire at some point to join efforts such as yours to improve the health care for Ecuadorians without economic means to do so independently.
george contreras - new york, ny
I also applaud Dr. Rodas and his efforts. I am currently trying to work with local NGOs in Ecuador to assist them with pre-hospital issues and emergency medical care. I have since arranged for an ambulance to be donated to one of the cities in Ecuador. Both of my parents are from Ecuador but I was born in New York. I hope to improve the partnership with community groups in Ecuador and try to help them help themselves. Unfortunately, I have not had much success trying to work with the president or his health minister but that will not stop the desire to work with the local communities. I hope to get in touch with Dr. Rodas and see how I can help him help the Ecuadorian communities. May God bless his efforts. George Contreras
Mercedes Cass - Matthews, N.C.
I applaud Dr.Rodas, I do remember the ship HOPE that brought so much help to the Ecuadorian people in the Sixties. Glad to hear that America continues to help Ecuadorians, even though the Ecuadorian president does not like Americans. May God bless Dr. Rodas, and his helpers.Sincerely,