Naturopathic Medicine Serving Underserved Communities

Following the growing global reach of naturopathic medicine

By Marianne Marchese, ND

Printer Friendly PagePrinter Friendly Page

In the past 10 years naturopathic medicine has spread across the United States. Several new states have become licensed, a new school opened and was recently granted full accreditation, and a long-standing naturopathic medicine school started a satellite campus in another state. This progress has allowed for more Americans to have access to naturopathic medicine. During this same time span, another trend has occurred within the profession: the movement toward naturopathic global health.
The past decade has seen the emergence of several organizations dedicated to bringing naturopathic medicine to undeveloped and underserved countries. Several of these organizations have full-time medical clinics outside of the United States, staff members, boards of directors, and intense fundraising efforts. Other global health efforts have simply been individual naturopathic physicians volunteering their services in an underdeveloped country, or a naturopathic doctor living abroad for personal reasons and practicing the medicine in another country. Regardless of how and why, it is clear the world has seen the impact naturopathic medicine has on improving the lives of others.
Recently I was fortunate enough to participate in a volunteer trip to Cap-Haitien, Haiti, with Naturopaths Without Borders (NWB). NWB is one of the organizations committed to naturopathic global health. Its goal is to provide naturopathic healthcare to impoverished communities, while empowering those communities through education, supporting growth, and cultivating sustainable resources. This week-long trip was life-changing. I arrived without expectations other than the expectations placed upon me as an experienced ND to not only provide medical care to patients but also to supervise and teach naturopathic medical students. (So far in 2013, more than 50 naturopathic medical students from the United States and Canada have participated in a volunteer trip to Cap-Haitien with Naturopaths Without Borders).
Regardless of how and why, it is clear the world has seen the impact naturopathic medicine has on improving the lives of others.
The clinical cases were unlike those we see in the United States—dehydration, malaria, worms, cholera, and typhoid to name a few. One case was a young thin man with a blood pressure of 250/180 and tachycardia. Hypertension is a serious health issue in Haiti due to a food additive called Maggi, which contains MSG and a high amount of sodium. This food additive is used for flavoring and is the major cause of hypertension in Cap-Haitien. The patient was seen at one of the many mobile integrative clinics run by Naturopaths Without Borders. Naturopathic doctors and students work alongside local Haitian MDs, learning from each other. Naturopathic principles were applied as patients were taught how to change their diet, cook differently, and avoid the use Maggi. Botanicals were utilized for hypertension, as were medications to quickly lower blood pressure.
Dr. Marchese on her volunteer trip to Cap-Haitien, Haiti, with Naturopaths Without Borders
The most difficult clinical day was a pediatric mobile clinic run at a school. We saw about 25–30 girls aged 5–10 years old. The chief complaint amongst all was abdominal pain. The cause was hunger. It was heartbreaking. Naturopaths Without Borders has started a malnutrition program. This program costs about $70 (or less than $24/month or less than $6/week) per child to take them from a malnourished state to a well-nourished state in 12 weeks or less using the product Medika Mamba, a fortified peanut butter designed to treat malnutrition in children. Treatment includes the initial evaluation of the child with a physician, a hospital referral if needed, an appropriate amount of Medika Mamba based on the child's body mass index, and weekly clinic visits with a physician or community health worker to assess weight gain and overall health. Parents receive education on healthy diets and malnutrition-related diseases, such as Marasmus and Kwashiorkor. The program provides bleach drops for the entire family during treatment to ensure all are consuming potable water. The child also receives deworming medication and antibiotics if needed. The vast majority of children do not need treatment more than one time, and providing this service will put the children back on the growth chart and allow them to achieve appropriate developmental milestones. The program uses local products grown by local farmers, thus improving the economy and lives of Haitians.
Most of the medications and naturopathic medicines are free to patients or provided at very low cost, but they're limited due to limited resources. The malnutrition program is expensive to run, yet vital to providing the basic needs most in the United States take for granted. Naturopathic global health organizations rely on monetary donations in order to purchase supplies, as well as donated items provided by various supplement companies. Imagine how much more help naturopathic medicine could provide with additional resources.
For years I have seen the power of naturopathic medicine at work in the United States, both in clinical and academic settings. It was amazing to see the medicine applied in an undeveloped and underserved country. I encourage all to take a volunteer trip with one of the many global health organizations in the naturopathic profession following our guiding principles.
  • The Healing Power of Nature
  • Identify and Treat the Causes
  • First Do No Harm
  • Doctor as Teacher
  • Treat the Whole Person
  • Prevention
Cap-Haitien, Haiti with Naturopaths Without Borders

About the Author

Marianne Marchese, ND, is the author of 8 Weeks to Women’s Wellness: The Detoxification Plan for Breast Cancer, Endometriosis, Infertility, and other Women’s Health Conditions. Marchese graduated from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2002. She maintains private practice in Phoenix, Ariz., and teaches gynecology at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. Marchese writes on ongoing column on environmental medicine in The Townsend Letter and lectures on topics related to women’s health and environmental medicine throughout the United States.