Operation Good Samaritan Mission Trip Report
Damoh, India, January 2003
By Anil P. Punjabi, MD
"As I arrived at the mission hospital, a throng of people were waiting."
How I ended up in Damoh for this mission trip was pure serendipity. In August 2002, Linda D'Antonio, PhD, received an email from Dr. A. J. Lall, the founder of the Central India Christian Mission asking for help as they had a significant number of untreated patients with cleft lip and palate. After several weeks of correspondence, Dr. D'Antonio arranged to meet with Dr. Rajesh Dasari, a dental surgeon in charge of the mission hospital. Dr. Dasari traveled quite a distance to meet with her and explained their dire needs. After establishing we could help with the needs of the hospital, Dr. D'Antonio arranged for me to visit the mission as a representative of Operation Good Samaritan. The City Mission Hospital is part of the Central India Christian Mission in Damoh (http://www.indiamission.org/) which is a remote district in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, which literally means ?central state'.
The mission trip
During the planning, it became evident that Damoh is literally located in the middle of nowhere. It is not easily accessible. Madhya Pradesh is landlocked and has very meager infrastructure. It is one of the poorest states in India. The Damoh district has a population of about 1.2 million people and there are approximately 7 million people in the surrounding districts with virtually no access to any type of medical care.
There had been previous announcements by the mission hospital in the surrounding areas to get the word out that treatment of cleft lip and palate would be available during the time that I was to be there. As I arrived at the mission \\hospital, there was a throng of people waiting. Some of these families had walked for three days with had no warm clothing, shoes or slippers and walked barefoot through jungles and rough terrain to seek treatment and were exposed to severe winter conditions.
It was incredible that patients continued to come to the mission hospital for days after I had left Damoh. I was told that even at the time of my departure from Bombay to the U. S., there were patients who were still trooping in, having heard of a surgeon who had come to help. There are thousands of these patients in this particular area.
During our screening, we selected 20 patients. I selected most of the patients based on the fact that they were girls with severe cleft lip and palate deformities. Because of several cultural attitudes, the social handicapping associated with clefting is far more severe for girls and their families in India. These beautiful and otherwise normal children are ostracized and kept hidden in homes and are not allowed to go out for fear of being stoned and ridiculed. If and when they do go out, they are called "rakshash" meaning "demon." Therefore, most of these children do not go to school and lead a very secluded and isolated existence.