THE massive poverty in the Philippines, compounded by frequent natural calamities, causes untold tragedy to the almost 110 million Filipinos, especially to the more than 3.5 million of them who are indigent members of society. As could be expected, medical care is absent, if not scarce, in many areas of the country.
The Montero Medical Missions, founded by a renowned Fil-Am surgeon and medical leader, Dr. Juan M. Montero of Chesapeake, Virginia, is a humanitarian foundation, among others, which seeks to minister to the medically underserved Filipinos in various remote towns in the Philippines. His vision includes a floating medical clinic.
The concept of floating hospital first started in the New York area in October 1866 with “a series of charitable excursions, initially conducted by steamboat tycoon John Starin for the benefit of newsboys, war veterans and the needy.”
Impressed with the MMM and its vision of a floating medical clinic, I conducted an interview with Dr. Montero, which follows:
What is Montero Medical Missions?
Montero: The Montero Medical Missions is a non-profit 501(c)3 tax-exempt international faith-based (interfaith) humanitarian organization based in Chesapeake, Virginia. I initiated this long overdue project with hopes of a public-private partnership. We are dedicated to the promotion of world friendship through the universal language of the healing arts.
How would you accomplish this?
Montero: The plan is to create and work with a consortium of corporations, foundations, health institutions, service organizations such as Rotary, Lions clubs, churches, tourism industry, etc. MMM was created in July 2011 with a mission and vision to combine the work of medical missioners and those of Peace Corps volunteers. In spite of its limited funding, this concept has worked beautifully so far, in the service of the poor.
What is MMM’s Floating Medical Clinic?
Montero: The Floating Medical Clinic, a vision of MMM, is a novel healthcare delivery system best suited for archipelagic countries like the Philippines which has 7,106 islands.
This project we are proposing is a 19-meter long Trimaran, fiberglass, shallow draft, with solar panels to be built at Evercat Asia boat building company in Mactan, Cebu. In November 2018, during our visit to this company arranged by my good friend Dr. Shawn Espina, a local general/trauma surgeon, we were quoted the price of 16 million pesos ($300,000). This FMC can accommodate 60 persons. Being shallow draft, it can land on beaches where mission work gets started, including performance of minor surgical procedures [bumps/lumps] under local anesthesia. Since it will cost more today, we plan to raise $500,000.
Why a Floating Medical Clinic?
Montero: We are embarking into this venture for two main reasons. Firstly, to serve the many far-flung coastal communities in their health care needs and create sustainable projects such as Eyesight 20/20, Prosthesis, Dental Care, Women’s Heath, Diabetes Screening, Feed and Educate the Children. Secondly, in times of calamities, i.e. typhoons, earthquakes, etc. these same communities can readily get assistance with needed medical care and supplies. Many of my contemporaries, expatriate health professionals whom I call a vanishing breed, are always wanting to help the homeland together with their counterpart fellow countrymen and colleagues, and this vehicle surely can be an answer because of its affordability and flexibility, let alone it would be fun.
What would this FMC do for the people?
Montero: The Floating Medical Clinic will give them hope for a more convenient and improved answer to their health care needs. The seamstress who has abandoned sewing for losing clear vision can now return to her job right after being examined by an optometrist and fitted with a correct prescription eyeglasses. The leg amputee with new prosthesis becomes productive again. This is bringing medical care to their doorstep. Most of these people do not have cars.
Who would be the beneficiaries of the FMC?
Montero: The occurrence of an average 22 typhoons yearly in the Philippines is more than enough reason to have such a novel project and be a leader in this aspect of healthcare delivery wherever it is needed. Besides post-natural disasters, those less fortunate folks in far-flung coastal communities who seldom, if any, get medical attention would benefit from this program. The country’s dream of a universal healthcare will be enhanced by this unique FMC safety net.
How will the FMC actually function?
Montero: Dr. Espina is the head of a group of multi-specialist group of physicians in Cebu, many of whom are veteran medical missioners. He and his colleagues could use this clinic on water, and oversee the operation of the FMC through a calendar of medical service events year round. When not in use for medical or relief mission purposes, the FMC can accommodate tourists for whale-shark sightseeing, scuba diving adventures, etc., to add to the revenue. For strategic reason, the docking headquarter will be in Liloan, Cebu.
Who would finance the operation of the FMC?
Montero: The Montero Medical Missions is currently in the process of communication for potential partnership with the PH Merchant Marine Academy, PH Coast Guard Auxiliary and School for Seafarers. Once established, it will definitely lower down the cost of operation, which initially should come from our major fundraising efforts both in the U.S. and PH, then eventual creation of an Endowment Fund for its sustainability. When MMM sponsors an FMC medical mission, we get supplies/equipment from the World Medical Relief warehouse in Metro Manila thru the kindness of its Executive Director, Dr. David Zarate, who also sits on MMM Philippines Advisory Board.
Any other partnership in the offing?
Montero: I am communicating with my personal friends, like Sen. Manny Pacquiao, Rev. Pat Robertson and son Gordon of 700 Club, Investment banker Steve Cuunjieng, Mr. Andy Koval of Tacha Foundation and others for potential partnership, like the various medical associations in the Philippines and in the U.S. The naming rights of this novel healthcare delivery system would be in play if requested. The Filipino United Network-USA (www.fun8888.com), a United States humanitarian foundation, is endorsing the MMM and its Floating Medical Clinic.
What is your timetable for the FMC?
Montero: The major determinant for this is our success in our fundraising. It will take eight months to finish the construction of the Floating Medical Clinic. We are approaching potential major gift donors both in the U.S. and in the Philippines. We will utilize social media to the maximum in its promotion, i.e. email, constant contact, website campaign, Facebook, Twitter, PowerPoint presentations, teleconferences, etc. This novel humanitarian project will provide doorstep delivery of medical care to the poorest of the poor. I am most optimistic in this venture because failure is not an option in serving our country and our suffering fellowmen.
How do people contact MMM?
Montero: Google Montero Medical Missions, view it on YouTube, and see it on Facebook and Twitter, for more information. Email us at [email protected].
Let us all roll up our sleeves, support, and rally behind this wonderful humanitarian endeavor in the service of our helpless underserved fellowmen in pain and not wait for surgery to open our heart!
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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, a Health Advocate, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites: philipSchua.com and FUN8888.com; Email: [email protected].