WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Dominican Republic is the most visited destination in the Caribbean. The country has the ninth largest economy in Latin America and the second largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region.
But despite all of the tourist dollars generated each year, there are people in the Dominican Republic who still can't afford medical services. That is where a group of people from Wilmington come in.
On June 9, a group of medical personnel and non-medical volunteers, working through the group Medical Ministries International, will leave Wilmington and join over 50 other people from around the United States. They'll set up a mash-like camp in an mountainous area west of Santiago.
For many in the group, it is a trip they have made many times. This will mark the 25th trip that Wilmington plastic surgeon Dr. Ken White has made.
"We try to see as many people as we can, as quickly as we can," said Dr. White. "They have been briefed through the churches in the area and in the communities to spread the word about what we need and what kind of patients we can treat."
But the need continues to be great, not only from residents of the Dominican Republic itself, but also from nearby Haiti as well. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, with a mountain range separating the two countries.
While the economy of the Dominican Republic improves, the earthquake that took place in Haiti three years ago still has that economy in shambles. White says many Haitians are now crossing the mountains, seeking attention from those on mission trips, because some medical procedures that can be performed in the Dominican are not available in their own country.
"We can more effectively treat the Haitians, in the Dominican Republic, that we can in Haiti," said Dr. White. "It is still hard for us to get equipment through customs into Haiti, and there are so many Haitians in the Dominican, we just treat them there."
Dr. White says when doctors make the annual trip, they are practicing medicine in its purest form, without having the restrictions and complications of insurance companies. And for he himself, it is a spiritual calling and a time to reflect on his own life here at home.
"It makes you re-evaluate your priorities and it is what I say is a whole, complete renewal of your perspective on life. That is what it does."
Many of the physicians will be in the Dominican Republic for a couple of weeks, returning to Wilmington around June 23.
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