Aeromedicos of Santa Barbara
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Volunteer Medical and Dental Missions to Mexico

History of the Aeromedicos

Aeromedicos' roots go back to 1974, although we didn't incorporate as a California-registered 501(c) 3 under the name of Aeromedicos until 1985. Now, in 2002, more than 100 volunteers, including medical doctors, dentists, pharmacists, chiropractors, nurses, optometrists, audiologists, technicians, medical students, pilots, construction workers, and general volunteers, regularly provide quality medical and dental services to the community of Cadeje, in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

In the beginning, Aeromedicos served the Yaqui Indians in Sonora, Mexico. For nearly 20 years we offered free medical and dental care, as well as free medications, to the seven Yaqui villages in that area, which, at the time, had no medical services. With our own funds and local labor, we created a clinic that allowed us to treat 400-500 patients every month between October and June.

The Yaqui had a long history of conflict with the ruling party in Mexico and unfortunately, in 1995, our permit to operate in Sonora was not renewed by the Mexican government. We then moved our operation to Baja to serve the communities of Mulege and Cadeje.

Since 1995, Aeromedicos has served the people of Cadeje, a small community 600 miles south of San Diego, and the residents of the small fishing villages and ranchos of this remote desert area. About 30 volunteers fly in private planes every month from October through June to conduct free medical, dental, audiology, and optometry clinics. Before Aeromedicos arrived, Cadeje did not have any medical services. Now families from all over the area travel by various means-from foot to horseback to beat-up pick-up truck-to receive free medical and dental treatment. On clinic day, we typically treat around 100 patients (half of which are children) who would otherwise receive no medical care at all. Although this is a smaller area from which to draw patients, the need is even greater here than in Sonora, where a Mexican clinic has been established. (Aeromedicos used to conduct the same four clinics in the town of Mulege, on the eastern side of the Baja peninsula, as well, but this community now has ongoing local medical care. Aeromedicos still conducts audiology and optometry clinics in Muleje, however.)

The cost of flying to and from our clinic is shared by the volunteers in each airplane, who also pay for their own lodging, food, and ground transportation while in Mexico, in addition to donating their services. We take pride in the fact that the majority of the Aeromedicos funding comes from the volunteer members themselves.

At both Mulege and Cadeje, we were given buildings that were little more than shells. From them we collaborated with the local residents to create clinics. We provided the money and materials, and they provided much of the labor. By western standards these clinics are primitive, but they serve our needs for treating patients. In Cadeje we tripled the size of the building, adding a dental clinic and pharmacy. We installed generators, rewired the building, and added two bathrooms with flush toilets-all at no expense to the population.

We maintain a well-stocked pharmacy that includes hearing aids and eyeglasses, plus a wide variety of medications to treat everything from coughs and colds to Parkinson's and end-stage heart disease. All medicine and equipment used by Aeromedicos are donated or purchased with contributions. While medicines are cheaper in Mexico, we cannot rely on their delivery, so we purchase the much-needed drugs in the U.S. and take them with us on each trip. In Cadeje, itinerant doctors (fourth year medical students are required to do a two-year residency in rural areas of Mexico) also use these medicines to treat patients who are unable to come to our clinic or who need them between our visits.

Additionally, we have trained a young woman in Cadeje to act as a nurse in our absence. She has the keys to the clinic so that she can dispense basic medications and open it for the traveling doctors to use. We hope to increase her education in the years to come so she can be of even greater assistance to her neighbors.