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Real Medicine Foundation, Born in Asian Tsunami, Helps in 11 Countries

California physician Dr. Martina Fuchs wanted to help in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian earthquake and tsunami. Mike O'Sullivan reports, the decision led her to create a charity called the Real Medicine Foundation, which offers health care and help for the poor in 11 countries.

In Los Angeles, teachers have been trained in psychological trauma counseling for students in gang-ridden parts of the city. Children at a clinic in Lagos, Nigeria, get vaccinations. Women with spinal cord injuries in northwestern Pakistan, devastated by an earthquake in 2005, are receiving treatment.

The projects grew out of the experience of Dr. Martina Fuchs, a German-born pediatrician who traveled to Sri Lanka after the Asian tsunami, which claimed hundreds of thousands lives and displaced millions.

"A friend of a friend from Australia had a vacation home in southern Sri Lanka that got completely destroyed," she recalls. "He said, 'You know, it looks like World War II. Everything is destroyed. The big organizations aren't here yet. Wounds are getting infected. People are in despair. Can you come here?'"

Fuchs ended up traveling to an evacuee camp in southern Sri Lanka, where she was moved by the plight of the children. Someone suggested she set up a clinic for them, and she remembers thinking, "'OK, I've never established a children's clinic before, but let's just figure this out.'" And she did.

"There was a small two-room building in the camp that was hit by the tsunami, but not destroyed. It belonged to the Ministry of Fisheries. And then the Sri Lankan Navy and people from all over the world that had come to help – you know, there was a carpenter from Scotland, a plumber from London – and everybody helped," she says.

The carpenter built an examination table and shelves for medicines. The Sri Lankan Navy helped get doors, windows and electricity, and Dr. Fuchs started to see patients.

She realized there were many long-term needs that were not being met. Although she says she did not expect things to turn out the way they did, her experience in Sri Lanka led her to create a permanent charity called the Real Medicine Foundation.

"I was approached by families to help, help with long-term medication, heart surgeries, because they had lost everything," she says. "And then it grew from there. We worked in Hurricane Katrina, Pakistan after the earthquake. So we focus on disaster relief, and extreme poverty."

Fuchs says Real Medicine projects also address psychological and social needs. The Foundation sponsors a financial assistance project for families in one village in Indonesia, HIV education and treatment in India and Mozambique, a medical clinic in Peru and other projects.

She says doctors and other health care workers from the United States and Europe pay visits to the sites, but the core is local.

"To make the clinics and our projects sustainable on the ground, we hire local doctors, local nurses, health care workers, coordinators, to implement the project, and we always work alongside other organizations," she explains.

She faces bureaucracy and red tape, but says she is persistent, and uses her growing network of contacts to get things done. She recently met with Mozambique's Health Minister about future projects in that East African nation, which include one to deploy mobile health clinics across the country.

Fuchs says she is amazed at the Foundation's impact. She cites the example of one of its clinics, in Balakort in northwestern Pakistan, which each year provides health care to about 120,000 people.

"It makes me happy to see the ripple effects," she says. "Right now, our clinics touch and support several hundred thousand people on a shoestring budget. And we are making a difference in all of their lives. You know, it's beautiful."

Dr. Martina Fuchs says that in the two-and-a-half years since she launched the Real Medicine Foundation, it has changed the direction of her own life just as much as it has helped children and families in many parts of the world.