Folio News Story
January 6, 2006

Invasive procedures

Dr. Marc Moreau spearheads a medical team that teaches and performs surgeries in Ecuador

by Lee Craig

Pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Marc Moreau has been happy over the last five years to share his knowledge with trauma doctors in Ecuador, a knowledge that is tremendously needed and appreciated.

Moreau is part of a group of doctors who formed the non-profit Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad. The group performs about 100 surgeries each visit and helps train medical students at the University of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador.

"We are trying to set up a model to bring people from North America to developing countries in programs where they can feel safe and help out. The Third World wants to be taught – they don't want to be charity cases," said Moreau, who is assistant dean of admissions for the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

"And we are keen on giving them the fishing pole instead of just the fish. We are trying to get the teaching underway, so they can do these things on their own."

The importance of what the group does, how the work helps people, can't be emphasized enough, said Moreau.

"Part of it is an innate desire to be able to give the basics to people. Around the world, one in every 1,000 kids is born with a club foot – that doesn't change no matter where you go. So a kid born in Edmonton with a club foot – we can take care of him in a very short time, and he lives a normal life and kicks soccer balls around. But if you're born in Ecuador with a club foot? It doesn't make sense that they can't be looked after."

Ecuador is a country of approximately 13 million people. Heavily reliant on petroleum exports, Ecuador suffered a severe economic crisis in the late 1990s. The number of people living in poverty grew significantly. Although the economy in Ecuador has stabilized since then, many people still need greater access to medical care, and approximately 45 per cent of the population is poor.

The time, effort, and goods for the medical trips are all donated. Funds for the annual excursions, each estimated to cost $150,000, have been donated by individuals, businesses, and service clubs.

Moreau said the program will be expanded next year with a new workshop on orthopedic trauma in Quito in June. He and the Ecuadorian Orthopedic Society hope to share the Edmonton team's knowledge with 60 - 70 trauma doctors from Ecuador, more than Moreau and his colleagues reached with their smaller teaching sessions. To hold the three-day workshop, they will need about six to eight orthopedic surgeons from the U of A or anywhere in Canada to donate their time to this symposium.

Moreau, who has worked at the University of Alberta Hospital and the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital for 25 years, says it is important for people in countries with greater resources to contribute to those with less.

"People want to help when they realize the huge, huge need they have in developing countries for expertise, and how the doctors and other staff are so appreciative of somebody coming there and confirming what they know, or showing a new technique."

Moreau says it will take about a week of a surgeon's time to attend the symposium: travel time, rest, and the three-day workshop.

Medical care such as pediatric surgery is often something most people can't afford and desperately need, Moreau adds.

"The middle class has become poor, so the guy who had a house and a car now can't buy anything but electricity for his home and food for his family, and then he gets a kid with a club foot – they just fall by the wayside…then when you take the poor people, they are even worse off. They don't have socialized medicine there."