Mississippi pediatrician Hannah Gay has done something never accomplished before: She has apparently cured a baby born with the AIDS virus. The final verdict is still out, but the child has been off antiretroviral drugs for two and a half years, with only traces of HIV remaining.
Gay is not just a pediatrician, but also a former Southern Baptist missionary to Ethiopia. As such, she has made just one of many significant discoveries by current and former medical missionaries worldwide.
Such contributions are not new. In the 1950s and '60s, Irish doctor Dennis Burkitt identified a new type of cancer that came to be called "Burkitt's lymphoma" while investigating jaw tumors in Ugandan children. Jack Hough, who played a key role in the founding of global Christian health organization MAP International, was a pioneer in microscopic ear surgery. Surgeon Paul Brand earned acclaim for his innovative treatments of leprosy patients in India.
Russ White's research on esophageal cancer at Tenwyck Hospital in Bomet, Kenya, is a current example. By placing a stent inside tumors, he has successfully treated the region's most common malignancy.
"Christian-inspired missionaries and nationals [have] made a huge contribution to global health," said Ray Martin, director of Christian Connections for International Health. He expects to see additional progress.
Research faces less red tape in the mission field, says David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations and a former missionary to Kenya. And an "enormous renaissance" in doctors doing medical missions has increased the opportunity for research.
When Stevens went to Kenya in 1980, he was one of only 3 doctors at his hospital; today there are 17. "[This] gives you … more time to deal with issues and try innovative solutions."
Attendance at the Global Missions Health Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, has ballooned more than tenfold over the past 16 years. Meanwhile, attendance at the Christian Community Health Fellowship conference has quadrupled over the past four years. And the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board reports an all-time high of 300 medical missionaries on the field.
"God is calling some of the best and brightest healthcare personnel to some of these difficult-to-reach areas," said Stevens. "So it's not surprising that they're coming up with some of these innovations."
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