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Up to the poor villages in the Andes mountains!

After our expedition in the Amazon, we went to help out with our medical team in the Bolivian Andes.

We are so thankful that – about 23 years ago – we could build our Mission Base in the Andes. This, thanks to a big donation of a Dutch widow who saw our (translated) documentary in 1996 that was made on the field and broadcasted by a Dutch News channel.

We started from this 12.000 feet high Andes base to reach out to many remote and poor villages in one of the biggest and poorest regions in Bolivia. And this country is already the poorest country in South-America

The temperatures in the Andes during the day are excellent but once the sun is gone, we are reaching freezing temperatures on these altitudes that are above 12.000 feet high. Being in Summertime on the Southern Hemisphere, we don’t call it here (Bolivia) “Summer” but rather the “Raining Season”. Plants and crops grow till a level of 11.500 feet high when rain is falling. Above 12.000 feet, nothing grows anymore.
Because of the sudden changes in altitude and the low oxygen saturation in the air (thin air), our team suffered from head- and muscle pains, pressure on the breast, a high heart rate, sleepless nights and even night merries.

We, as a team decided to only go to the villages where there is no Doctor, no medical care nor medicines. We went to Tarabuquillo, Arquillos, Alcala, etc… The people in these regions are so poor that there is simply not any money to pay for medicines, a consultation or any other care. The medical needs are enormous in this region. We try to take care and comfort these people child by child, elder by elder, man by man. We treat them and especially give them all hope we have to not give up.

Corona was in each village or town but we can be thankful that also in Bolivia the Omikron variant is taking over. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t got enough work because a lot of people got mild to severe flu-like symptoms. We can’t stress enough how thankful these people are when a medical team comes and there aren’t many… The earlier Delta and Brazilian variant had taken 10.000’s of precious lives. Many could have been avoided if they got more care and oxygen. Carolien, my wife who helps me there as a self made nurse (she studied in fact on the University in Antwerp, Belgium for restoration of very old paintings), got for the second time Covid but she regained her strenght quickly and could continue with the work.

We saw also too many illnesses related to an overload of many different parasites. These parasites take a lot of essential minerals, vitamins and other essential substances. This is the reason why their immunity is so low to combat diseases like Corona as they didn’t receive vaccins. The government doesn’t care about these poor people. No one can understand how desperate these situations can be if you have on the same time other diseases and lack of food.

As usually, we always see a  lot of pneumonias because there are no antibiotics to stop simple throat infections. So, the lungs become an easy target to bring people in a deadly position. The State (department) of Chuquisaca in Bolivia is the endemic region where you find the deadly disease “Chagas” (also 10 thousands). According to scientifically studies more than 70% have this disease. It was this disease that killed my friend and Doctor Dr. Ino who worked more than 30 years with us because it can also become chronic and “morbidity” (dying earlier) becomes higher as it attacks the heart muscle. I made my first expeditions together with Pr. Romulo (see further) and this Doctor (Ino) more than 30 years ago. This brave man and doctor died at the age of 55 as a result of the “Chagas disease” (this is a kind of parasite that is transmitted by a mite). As said, especially the heart muscle and also the intestinal muscles are seriously affected over time.

The image of an old blind man with constant serious pains in his bones and joints who couldn’t pee anymore because of Prostate Cancer remains in my heart. There are no surgeons nor hospitals and little could be done. Luckily, one of his nieces cared for him in his little one room house made by rocks and without windows to avoid the cold and the icy winds.

My Inca/Quetchua guide (since 1990) Romulo Balderama had been also very ill because of Covid. He has asthma too and they took him up in the only “working” hospital in the city of Sucre. It’s the only city in this State (Chuquisaca).

He is doing well now! He lives with his wife and 4 children in the Andes. In the early days, he served also as care giver (Promotor De Salud). His lung problems started probably due to all the dust he inhaled as he sometimes walked for 9 days in a row to reach these villages with the needed care when he was young (1990 and earlier). He didn’t want shoes as they worn out too fast (as he said to me). He preferred to make his own sandals with thick rubber of old tires from jeeps or trucks. We could provide the needed care from to save him and his wife. His youngest son is called Rik like me. It seems to be a custom because other doctors called their son also Rik believing he will become a copy of me :))].

We are very thankful for all support – even a small gift – for Doctors On Mission to be able to continue the work! It warms our hearts and gives us the  courage to go on. As you know – thanks to you – every gift can be used to give the needed medical support to help these poor people in the inland of Bolivia and Haiti. Sadly enough, we face this time a lot of debts because of all kind of reparations of our vehicles, the many medicines we needed to use the last two years and other medical care we needed to give. Now, we are in the process to equal our financial balances again.

We are also thankful for any further protection of our team and of ourselves during these challenging times. We (also our doctors, dentists, nurses and logistic people) stay constantly in contact with these villages who always can use more support especially to them who are sitting with many diseases and whose immunity is extremely low.

Thank you for all you do!!!
Rik Celie, MD-Missionary, my wife Carolien and our Andes Doctor Teams

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