Photo courtesy of Physicians for Peace
Dr. Winfred Ward on a medical mission to the Dominican Republic
A year after retiring from a successful infectious disease practice, Dr. Winfred Ward felt restless. He missed practicing medicine. “I knew I had to do something,” he says. After hearing about Norfolk-based Physicians for Peace, he contacted the organization’s founder, Dr. Charles E. Horton.
Ward was impressed by the doctor’s enthusiasm, as well as the organization’s mantra: Teach one. Heal many. “I bit into that,” he says, adding that two weeks later, he was in the Philippines working for the organization. “That was the beginning.”
Since that first mission in 2000, Ward has been to approximately 16 countries on 37 missions. “I have also been on missions with other organizations, including VCU Health System,” he says. And he has done his share of local mission work.
When Ward first started going on missions with Physicians for Peace, he was doing general medicine and surgery. “Now we are more directed toward teaching,” he says. “We work with physicians, nurses and technicians, all varied specialties, in every country we go to.”
As part of his role, he teaches about the treatment of infectious disease. “When I am there, I mainly work with tuberculosis,” he says. “I also am part of the advance party a lot of times.”
Often, he is away from home for two weeks at a time, but he has participated in mission trips that last as long as six weeks. Days for the medical team are long, usually lasting from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Duties are divided in scope: 60 percent of their time is set aside for teaching, with the remaining 40 percent devoted to working with doctors who are providing care for patients.
Ward has been on five missions to Azerbaijan by the Caspian Sea, where he taught basic medicine. “We were taken aback that most of the doctors didn’t know how to do a simple, basic examination,” he says. He found a great divide in the country between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor. “I saw poverty like I have never seen before,” he says. “I saw malnutrition. When I began to push to work on that, I was shunned. You learn they don’t want you to tread on their territory.”
He says that his most rewarding and eye-opening mission was to Libya, where he taught medical students. “I saw my first case of the plague in Libya,” he says, noting that his trips often force him to learn more about a disease on the spot. “That is a common occurrence. I come home with more than when I left.”
He also met a second-year medical student in Libya who was “one of the smartest human beings I have encountered. He has six internationally published papers. He has graduated, but he is still in touch with me. That has been the highlight of the entire time I have been working.”
Ward’s last mission of 2014 was to Kazakhstan. While he used to go on one to two missions a year, “that has [now] slowed down,” he says. “Areas I have normally been working with have been under physical uproar. People now joke that if you want to start a revolution, send Fred to a country.”
Ward says he was most surprised by his visit to Sudan, where the government has absolute control. “They confiscated all of our medicines [at] the airport. We had to take our own money to buy medicines to help the patients,” he says. “We also had to bribe some officials to get our passports back. They did not stamp them before they gave them back the first time, and said we were in the country illegally.”
During his time in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Ward worked with Horton, who performed surgery on a young man with a urological problem. The patient, an artist, was extremely grateful, and he presented Ward with a drawing and a marble sculpture. Ward finds that people in the countries he serves are very appreciative of the team’s help. “We are very frequently invited to the homes of people,” he says. “I always find that a wonderful experience.”