Rick Hodes, a senior attending physician at the Mother Teresa’s Mission, spoke at the School of Public Health yesterday about his work to improve the health of those living in Ethiopia.
The event, Medicine in Africa: Working in Critical Conditions, was sponsored by Will Work For Food, UM Hillel, University of Michigan School of Public Health and the Center for Global Health.
As a specialist in spinal conditions, heart disease and cancer, Hodes said he first began treating those living in Ethiopia when he went there as a relief worker during the 1984 famine. He returned to Ethiopia in 1985, and in 1990 was hired by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to give medical assistance to the Ethiopian Jews immigrating to Israel. Soon after that, he came across Mother Teresa’s Mission, and now has a practice in Ethiopia under that mission, with help from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
In his presentation last night, Hodes said Ethiopia is a country where the chance of dying in childbirth is higher than the chance of dying from heart disease in the United States. Medical care is sparse and of low quality, and most people don’t get to see a doctor in their life, he said.
Hodes said one of the biggest problems he faces is not always having access to advanced medical equipment, forcing him to make due with the bare minimum necessary to treat patients.
“In Ethiopia, I started giving out chemo(therapy) on my front porch,” Hodes said.
Due to limited options for medical care in Ethiopia, Hodes said he usually sees very advanced cases of illnesses like Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and spinal tuberculosis. Among other resources, Hodes said he uses generic drugs bought from India to treat his patients.
Hodes said his work focuses on getting his patients to hospitals where they can be operated on, if surgery is needed. He works closely with hospitals in Ghana that operate for free and with a hospital in Cochin, India, sending patients to both so they can receive the treatment they require for free.
At his practice, Hodes sees about 20 to 25 patients a day. He said he does not advertise his work, but people from all over the country travel long distances to see him.
“I got one (patient) the other day that came from about 400 miles,” Hodes said. “They just assume that I’m in town and take the bus from all the way across town to come see me.”
Hodes said one of the main issues facing patients in Ethiopia is the lack of medical care available for patients in the early stages of many diseases and malnutrition.
He cited iodine deficiency specifically, noting that if children in Ethiopia had readily available access to iodine they would be able to raise their IQ by 7 percent.
Though he is mostly concerned with finding solutions as fast as possible for his patients, Hodes said his long-term goals include having surgery more readily available in Ethiopia, adding that he doesn’t see himself returning to the United States to live permanently for at least five years.
“Right now a lot of things are taking off,” Hodes said.
Hodes encouraged students to do the same, emphasizing the importance of taking time to do service abroad.
“There is a big world out there, (students) should get out and do some work outside of Michigan and outside of the United States,” Hodes said.