Donors and Workers Now, or Project DAWN, as it is more commonly known, has a history of firsts in Guyana.
And the Site Administrator, Ms. Marcian Gravesande, in an invited comment, said the vision behind those firsts will continue to fuel the operations of the health care centre, located at Liliendaal, on the East Coast of Demerara. “Project DAWN was the first group that did the lens implants on people with cataracts,” she said.
During cataract surgery, a patient’s cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with a synthetic lens to restore transparency. Following surgical removal of the natural lens, an artificial intraocular lens implant is inserted.
Gravesande pointed out too that the first set of scoliosis cases were handled by the Project DAWN team.
“They did a number of complex cases in Guyana that could not be done at that time,” she said.
At present, the Site Administrator says that Project DAWN is operating “low key,” but the break is to facilitate an assessment of the facility’s operations.
She pointed out that the health care centre does not have an on-call physician every day, but rather facilitates the work of volunteers who come to Guyana at different intervals.
Funding to support these humanitarian missions, according to Gravesande, is raised by the volunteers through charity balls, etc.
She added that the Government of Guyana also supports Project DAWN through various concessions.
In the meantime, the health care centre has opened its doors for other means of support to health care in Guyana.
Gravesande said the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH) is using the centre for training. The centre is called the Centre for Excellence for post graduate training for doctors and nurses.
A Nun’s Brainchild
Gravesande explained that the establishment of the health care centre was the brainchild of Catholic nun, Dr. Carmen Gannon, also the current Director.
Project DAWN is a U.S. nonprofit health care clinic that has provided free medical care and education to the local community since 1985.
“Dr. Gannon was stationed here as a nurse and a trainee nun and she fell in love with Guyana. She decided she wanted to stay here,” the Site Administrator said.
“She decided she would go back to the United States, study medicine and come back and that is what she did.”
Gravesande added that once back in Guyana, Gannon worked with the Leprosy Asylum before going back to the United States again.
“She went back the second time because she wanted to do something for Guyana. She made it her mission to bring down medical teams to Guyana to do work with the Guyanese poor,” Gravesande said.
This assistance was facilitated by the GPH, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and the Guyana Red Cross, with the majority of the outreach clinics being held at the Red Cross office.
However, according to Gravesande, after a fire in 1996 which destroyed the Guyana Red Cross building, Gannon lost everything.
“The fire was what prompted her to start her own clinic. She went home and raised the money and she came back, bought the land and built this clinic,” the Site Administrator said.
She noted that the formal opening was in 2002.
“When the clinic opened, we did not have clinics every day, but every three months Dr. Gannon would bring down medical teams and they would do mammograms and cataract surgery, whichever was needed,” Gravesande said.
The last large medical team to function out of Project DAWN was from the United States Naval Ship (USNS) Comfort.
Comfort staff, consisting of U.S. Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service and Canadian Forces, as well as the non-government organisation Project Hope, provided primary adult and pediatric and dental care, optometry, physical therapy, and veterinary and construction services during the course of the visit.
Comfort is on a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean, providing medical care to patients in a dozen countries.
Additionally, Gravesande said a lot of people, not only the poor, have benefited from the services provided by Project DAWN.
“Project DAWN is about quality care to the poor; and any people, not only the poor, benefited from expert surgery and medical advice when locally it was not available. The volunteer medical teams even carried some people out of Guyana for surgeries,” she said.