Centro Medico Humberto Parra, Palacios, Bolivia
Centro Medico Humberto Parra was set up in 2001 by Dr Douglas Villoreal and Dr Susan Hau, and is funded entirely by donations and staffed predominantly by local and international volunteers.
The clinic is located in the jungle surrounding the village of Palacios, about two hours drive from Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is an 8 hour bus ride east of La Paz.
Facilities are limited at the clinic. Pathology is limited and there is no radiology. However there is generally an adequate supply of medications, and there is even an ECG machine for diagnosing interesting conduction disorders associated with Chagas disease.
Medical care at the clinic is all on an outpatient basis, with no facilities for inpatient care. Patients can be referred to Santa Cruz hospital if needed.
Dr Douglas Villoreal (based in Santa Cruz) is keen to have international volunteers helping out at the clinic, and several medical students and residents have visited the clinic on rotations from medical schools and hospitals in the United States. In addition to clinical medicine there are opportunities for research projects and health education and promotion, although this does require some initiative.
The clinic has a separate building for staff, with two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom, and so volunteers are well provided for and stay free of charge. When in Santa Cruz volunteers are generally welcome to stay in the family home with Dr Villoreal.
Surprisingly, despite the poverty, Bolivia has very high rates of obesity, and consequently the incidence of diabetes and heart disease is comparable to the western world. However there are also high rates of tuberculosis and malaria, in addition to the unique problem of Chagas disease, which in some areas of Bolivia affects up to 50% of the population.
Medical volunteers assist in patient care at the clinic, and also have the opportunity to participate in weekly mobile clinics to surrounding villages. Health education and health promotion activities are encouraged and recommended.
The clinic itself is very isolated, with no nearby shops or any other facilities. Food all needs to be bought from Santa Cruz or another nearby town. Santa Cruz itself is Bolivia's wealthiest city with pubs, nightclubs, cinemas and all other creature comforts.
Volunteers should have an understanding of at least basic Spanish, as there is no English spoken and interpreters are not always available.
Centro Medico Humberto Parra is a relatively new clinic, and hence is still in its development phase. In 2004 there were some difficulties with patients actually travelling the distance to the clinic, resulting in some very quiet days, with more time spent reading in the hammock than seeing patients. Plans were in progress for resolving some of these problems (I believe a horse and cart may have since been purchased), and so it would be worth contacting someone who has worked at the clinic recently for an update.
Douglas Villoreal and his family are extremely welcoming and generous people who are wonderful to spend time with, and working at the clinic is an excellent way to practice Spanish and to take some time out from travels through South America.
Dr Douglas Villoreal
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