People

Hero of the Season: The Power of Real Medicine

Martina Fuchs’ L.A.-based Real Medicine Foundation has been established less than three years, but already it’s supporting more than 300,000 people from Afghanistan to Indonesia to Peru. In 2008, Martina’s first goal is to create a refugee clinic in Mozambique for victims of last winter’s floods. “We got a grant to establish the clinic. So the question was, should it be permanent or mobile?” she explains. She decided to design a mobile clinic, in cooperation with student aide workers from Vanderbilt University. “The first clinic will be on a truck and the second on a trailer that can be left for a week in a community,” she describes. “Then it can be picked up and delivered to the next area.”

In a country like Mozambique, where there is almost no healthcare in rural areas, people often have to walk as much as 20 miles to see a doctor — which is impossible for the sick or weak. Now, Real Medicine will come to them. “The roads are very bad, so you have to have really good suspension,” Martina muses. “But once we have the first one done, it can be duplicated. I’m confident we can have an impact.”

Long-term thinking is one of the key ideas that differentiate Real Medicine from other disaster relief services. Intentionally unencumbered by red tape, it’s often first on the ground after a disaster has occurred. But when other disaster relief organizations head to the next area, Real Medicine leaves a minimal staff behind to run long-term initiatives, using systems and infrastructure built during the initial effort. Sometimes, the ripple effect is greater than anyone realizes:

“When I was in the Mawella refugee camp in April 2005, there was a girl named Madumakela who was 11 years old,” Martina tells me. “She had the height of a 3-year-old because she was hit by a bus at age 3, and her pituitary gland was destroyed. She particularly needed human growth hormone (HGH), which is very expensive — about $500 a month U.S. But I thought I would start treating her anyway, trusting that somehow we’d get the help to continue, and we did. I’ve seen her recently, and she’s reaching normal height. And because of that, someone in the health ministry of Sri Lanka negotiated with New Zealand to lower the price of HGH. So now 40 kids in Sri Lanka who had similar conditions are being treated, just because I started treating Madumakela,” she finishes triumphantly.

Grant money and donations support Real Medicine’s initiatives, but much of the manpower is volunteer-based. Even the directors, who work with Martina in 11 different countries do so pro-bono.

Hopefully though, the Real Medicine Foundation will soon have a little money in its coffers. It’s one of two beneficiaries of August’s third annual Hot in Hollywood benefit, hosted by America Ferrara.

“We are very proud,” says Martina.
With her 2008 schedule already leading to Mozambique, Pakistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Martina should be proud. She’s an inspiration to us all.

-LENA KATZ

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