by Diane Ako
(HONOLULU) - A first of its kind partnership between the famed voyaging canoe Hokule'a and a Honolulu-based medical team aims to improve healthcare in Micronesia. The Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS), and the non-profit Aloha Medical Mission (AMM) teamed up for what both groups call a prescedent-setting venture.
The voyaging canoes Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu left Hawai'i on January 23, 2007 for Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. It's the first leg of a journey that will continue on towards Japan.
AMM is only involved in the Micronesia segment of this journey. Four teams, each with half a dozen volunteer doctors, nurses, and laypeople, are flying to Ponhpei, Chuuk (also known as Truk), and Yap (which will receive two AMM groups) in late February. Each team will stay about a week; in all, AMM's visit will last just over a month.
The schedule of the medical teams was planned so each of AMM's missions coincided with the arrival of the canoes to each island. AMM hopes, but isn't sure yet, if any volunteers will get to sail with the canoe between islands.
The partnership is the brainchild of AMM founder Dr. Ramon Sy and PVS president Nainoa Thompson. The trip has already presented some unexpectedly large challenges for AMM due to the multiple postponements of the canoes' trip.
Healthcare is an issue in Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, and doctors expect to find an "emerging epidemic" of diabetes, hypertension and other conditions associated with obesity. There is also a problem with infectious diseases (leprosy, elephantitis, TB, and other exotic diseases.)
In the long term, AMM hopes to establish a relationship with a medical clinic in at least one of the areas. Its doctors also will try to make a groundbreaking discovery - the cause of a mysterious skin illness nicknamed the "Spam disease" affecting about 100 people in Chuuk.
AMM's trip dates:
1) Chuuk (aka "Truk") Feb 23 - Mar 5
2) Pohnpei Feb 26 - Mar 5
3) Yap (Group 1) March 2 - 9
4) Yap (Group 2) March 21-31
And some late breaking news for you on the canoes' journey. We learned just after 9 tonight (Sunday night) that the Alingano Maisu, Hokule'a, and escort boat Kama Hele are safely moored in the lagoon of Majuro Atoll. From there they go to the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia.
Aloha Medical Mission is a Honolulu-based, secular, nonprofit, volunteer organization that provides free health care to underserved people overseas and in Hawaii. www.alohamedicalmission.org/