New Paltz physician aids poor women in developing countries

She’s a doctor who still makes house calls – at least when she’s not overseas, planting seeds of hope in lands where it’s in short supply. Maggie Carpenter is founder and executive director of Go Doc Go, as unique an NGO as you’re likely to find anywhere in the States, Africa, New Zealand or Central America, to name the four regions of the world where she has established beachheads of medical aid.

Carpenter, who lives in New Paltz with her husband and two children, describes herself as a family doctor with a passion for improving global health. Her particular interest in reproductive health and pediatrics led her to create Go Doc Go.

She was visiting a hospital in Ethiopia in 2011 when she discovered that the facility was woefully underprepared to provide critical OB/GYN services: The facility didn’t offer Pap smears, the standard test used to detect cancerous and precancerous cells in the cervix. Pap tests, she said, may seem routine enough in the States, but in a low-resource country like Ethiopia, complications arise: “You may not have phones, costs are considerable, multiple physicians are involved – it was difficult to, if not impossible to accomplish.”

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Carpenter did some research and found an alternative procedure called VIA: visual inspection with acetic acid. “With that, you just put vinegar on the cervix and wait a minute and look to see if any areas come up white. Then, if necessary, you can go ahead and treat right then.”

Carpenter came home and started work on what has become Go Doc Go. Simple though it seemed at first, it took two years of planning to get the program up and running. She and a colleague, nurse practitioner Ingrid Frengle-Burke, returned to Ethiopia with additional equipment, including a pair of machines that allowed doctors to perform outpatient surgery when results of the screenings required it. She and Frengle-Burke trained about 20 healthcare providers in using the machines and screening techniques. “The goal is to keep things sustainable. We basically give them the tools they’ll need to do what needs to be done without us around.”

In the year since the women’s visit, the hospital where they trained staff has seen more than 3,000 women and treated hundreds, she said. “They even have mobile units.” Since then, Go Doc Go has partnered with another NGO in Senegal, where the program was introduced to a pair of hospitals: one that services residents of the city of Dakar and another with a more rural facility.

Carpenter spent a week this fall establishing yet another outpost in the coastal city of Saint-Louis, Senegal – a huge facility, she said, which had never screened for cervical cancer until her program’s arrival. She has hopes to introduce yet another advanced screening and treatment program at the medical school there. She has also launched the program only a few months ago in Haiti, where the organization has partnered with several other NGOs.

In addition to training and medical equipment, the program also offers physicians who wish to volunteer on a short-term basis of two to eight weeks. And since no outlets offer such opportunities to physicians and the countries that need them, Go Doc Go is a unique not-for-profit in all the world, Carpenter said, adding that she intends the organization to be a world leader in funding such short-term, sustainable efforts.

Perhaps even more surprising, Go Doc Go has managed and sustained itself without benefit of large public or private grants: a fact that she hopes to change soon. Until now, the organization has been completely voluntary, relying mostly on modest local fundraisers as well as time-and-money donations from those volunteers. No one gets a salary, but travels and equipment costs always loom.

Carpenter, who also pays house calls on mostly elderly patients, is the medical director for Hudson Valley Hospice. “We’re looking for a program director with experience in the not-for-profit world for Go Doc Go,” Carpenter said. “As we do more and more programs, we’ve come to the point where we need some bigger grants…. I really enjoy the program development work, but I need someone to help me with the grantwriting and finding foundations. That’s my next step.”

For more information about Go Doc Go, visit http://godocgo.org.

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