Episode 6: The “Tiny Bag Dilemma” is NOT Universal

If you have no idea what I mean when I refer to the “tiny bag dilemma”, check out Episode 2. But to quickly recap, the “tiny bag dilemma” is the phenomenon of how medical mission trips frequently only provide small amounts of medications to the patients served.

Let’s start off with the point of this episode and then unpack it together:

I want it to be super duper clear that small quantities of medication does not equal "BAD"!!!
Again let me stress that small quantities of medications does NOT indicate a medical mission organization does not know what they are doing.

Here is why:

  • Ep2 went on to clarify that the quantities for antibiotics, headache and cold medications, fungal creams, etc. (literally 98% of the medications dispensed on medical missions) CAN be addressed with relatively small quantities. It is the patients who require their medication every day that are the concern.

  • Ep3 shows that there is actually a POINT to dispensing smaller amounts of medications because studies have shown patients who have to choose between feeding their family or taking medications, their family is going to win that decision; often times at the expense of selling their medication to do so.

  • You have to understand there are different types of medical missions and their main objective can vary

So let's switch gears and quickly review the types of medical missions. There are probably others, but these are the types I have come to know of from experience.

  1. The most common type of organization I have volunteered with are Churches and their priority is to church plant. Medical missions are a way to draw the community together to be able to share the gospel and to connect the community to a nearby church. I would not even be able to adequately describe the beauty and power that this type of outreach has in global communities. It is freaking awesome.

  2. The other type I have seen is one that focuses on giving students the opportunity to shadow and gain hands on experience. No religious ties and more group settings where students work together to triage patients or they shadow various Healthcare Professionals.

We can’t miss the point here: Regardless of the organization or the purpose of the mission- people are getting free healthcare and medicine they probably would not get otherwise. Volunteer and patient alike are growing in different ways. This is great stuff guys.

For Be the Change (BTC), our priority is to provide the best FREE medical and dental care to communities who have limited access to healthcare otherwise. And to do so in a way that is not causing more harm than good.

Be the Change’s Myanmar Trip is a great example of how both “types” of medical missions can be combined into one.

  • BTC partners with Bishop Buai who not only started a Bible School to train pastors, but also has planted and is still planting churches throughout Myanmar. Considering that Myanmar is primarily a Buddhist country, being able to bring the community together, introducing them to The Gospel and connecting them to local churches (if they wish to be) is powerful. All the while, students gain valuable hands on experience in a wide variety of healthcare fields.

The same goes for the Philippines trip except we don’t get the awesome pleasure of partnering with Bishop Buai!

So what if you see these organizations dispense blood pressure and diabetes medications in amount that may run out? Because that is what you would currently see on a BTC trip.

According one of my mentors, there are ways of still giving certain medications that would NOT cause harm if they were to run out and the benefit outweighs the risk. Here is just one example, but feel free to correct us if need be!

  • Metformin can have a huge impact on a patients glucose control. Withdrawal and rebound are not issues. It could save some kidney and organ damage as well.

  • There are a handful of medications I can think of that I wouldn’t want to see on their formulary because of the risk that their glucose may drop too low UNLESS the patient was already taking that medication, was stable and compliant

There are also TONS of organizations that dispense small amounts on their trip and then partner with nearby hospitals/clinics for the time in between their return. I would just check to see if they charge the patients for their services. For the sake of time, I would be happy to discuss this more off line with anyone who would be interested.

But I wanted to make it crystal clear that we need to be analytical rather than critical.

There are questions we can ask to see if the approach of medical mission teams are justified and safe. If not, there is nothing stopping you from engaging them in conversation about how their program can be modified to serve their patients better.

So you are probably asking yourself- so then why is the “tiny bag dilemma” even a dilemma again?

Because Be the Change wants to do something for our diabetes and hypertension patients that is continued beyond when our medical mission team is on the ground. We understand that in order for our patients to gain control of their chronic disease states, it oftentimes takes more than just handing over “tiny bags of medications”.

So stay tuned and hang in there for ONE more episode before we reveal the program that we believe will allow us to accomplish that goal. Next up I am going to answer the common question I am asked: “Is Be the Change a Christian Organization?" Until next time!

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