Pieter Gouws, consultant ophthalmologist at the Spire Sussex Hospital in St Leonards was part of a group of people who aided the Bolivian government’s efforts to roll out vaccinations in the country’s remote Itenez province.
He is also co-founder of the Andean Medical Mission (AMM), which has been working in the Bolivian Amazon since 2011, providing sight saving surgery to more than 400 people and prescription glasses to school children free of charge.
Mr Gouws said: “Our last trips to the Bolivian Amazon basin were in the summer of 2019 and we passed the significant milestone of our 1,000th surgical case.
“Soon after Covid struck and the world as we know it came to a halt. The directors of the charity made the decision to halt all planned activity for 2020 as vaccination programs were yet to be established worldwide. Bolivia shares a border with Brazil and the death toll from Covid in South America is still mounting and is one of the highest in the world.
“During this time, we finally managed to get registered in Bolivia as a charity in July 2020.
“Fundraising continued via grant applications and at our AGM in January this year, the directors decided to explore the possibility of aiding the Bolivian government with covid vaccination rollouts in the remote areas where we have established excellent local contacts and working relationships.
“After negotiations with the Bolivian government’s public health officials, we had an agreement to help with the vaccination program in the remote areas of the Itenez province where we have done a lot of work. In April this year we did our first trip by small plane to Remanso (also covering Cafetal, Sierro San Simon and Matequin) and Versalles, both only accessible by boat and small plane.
“The entire eligible population of the villages were vaccinated (1,550 vaccines).
“The second trip was done by small truck in the rainy season. The truck had to be modified with cooling capability for the vaccines and set off on a very arduous journey to San Borja del Rio Blanco with 1,000 vaccines. We vaccinated everyone we could in the towns of San Borja, Nueva Brema, Calami and La Cayoba.
“We hope to continue to help with the vaccination rollout as the likelihood is that we will not be able to restart our sight saving work until 2022.”
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