January 21, 2020

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Manitoba volunteer medical mission to Nicaragua cancelled due to unrest

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/7/2018 (544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dozens of Nicaraguans in need of hip and knee replacements won't get surgery this fall, after a group of Manitoba doctors cancelled a surgical mission due to ongoing civil unrest in the Central American country's capital.

For the first time in seven years, a team of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and other medical staff won't travel to Managua as part of the annual Operation Walk Winnipeg. Medical volunteers from across the province have treated hundreds of underprivileged Nicaraguans over the years; they gave new hips and knees to nearly 70 patients in desperate need of joint surgery during last year's three-day trip.

The 2018 trip, scheduled for November, was cancelled last week, the group's lead surgeon, David Hedden told the Free Press.

"We feel terrible that we can't go this year, but the safety of the team is the most important thing," said Hedden, who doubles as medical director at the Concordia Joint Replacement Group at the Winnipeg hospital.

For the first time in seven years, Dr. David Hedden and a team of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and other medical staff won't travel to Managua as part of the annual Operation Walk Winnipeg. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)</p>

For the first time in seven years, Dr. David Hedden and a team of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and other medical staff won't travel to Managua as part of the annual Operation Walk Winnipeg. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

Nicaragua's capital has been ravaged by riots since April. What started out as a peaceful protest against President Daniel Ortega's neoliberal reforms to the country's social security system has escalated into a nationwide uprising against the authoritarian regime.

Human rights groups estimate government repression has resulted in more than 200 deaths and upwards of 1,100 injuries. And according to a recent Amnesty International report, state violence has intensified in recent weeks.

"I respect the decisions that are made by individuals and organizations in terms of how of a risk they're willing to take on, but what it does is it leaves the people in Nicaragua more vulnerable," said Louise Simbandumwe, co-chairwoman of Amnesty International Winnipeg.

The level of repression that's happening in the country, especially in attacks against civilians, is "heartbreaking," she said.

"There's lots of civil unrest in Managua... and that's where the hospital (a public teaching facility where care is provided by the government) where we usually do our surgery is located," Hedden said, adding he's been keeping in contact with the local doctors.

He said the volunteer group also couldn't hold off on its decision, because it faced paying cancellation fees later on.

The federal government has also issued a travel advisory that warns Canadians to avoid "non-essential travel" to Nicaragua because of the conflict.

"Global Affairs Canada is very concerned about the deteriorating situation in Nicaragua... Canada calls on the government of Nicaragua to end the violence and ensure justice and accountability for human rights violations," Krista Humick, spokeswoman for department that manages Canada's diplomatic and consular relations, wrote in a statement to the Free Press.

"The unfortunate thing is there will be a lot of patients who won't benefit from hip and knee surgeries this year. We see the most incredible deformities. We often have patients that haven't walked for a year or two, and we fix their joints and they walk out of the hospital"

The travel advisory means if anything were to happen to the volunteers during the trip, Hedden said they wouldn't receive the usual government support.

"The unfortunate thing is there will be a lot of patients who won't benefit from hip and knee surgeries this year. We see the most incredible deformities," he said. "We often have patients that haven't walked for a year or two, and we fix their joints and they walk out of the hospital."

The Winnipeg doctor said there are as many as 3,000 people estimated to be in need of joint surgery in Nicaragua.

"We have a wait list in Canada, but there, that's not even an option," said Sharon Jillie, a nurse at Concordia Hospital who has volunteered with Operation Walk Winnipeg for the last three years.

Jillie said the patients are always "overwhelmingly grateful," because their conditions often prevent them from working.

Preventative drugs, which can prevent joint inflammation developing into a need for a hip or knee replacement, aren't readily available nor affordable in Nicaragua, Hedden said. That then leads to an increased need for joint surgeries, which hospitals can't provide because a lack of funding.

Most of the resources in Managua go towards funding trauma care, he said.

That's why organizations like Operation Walk fundraise for their missions; the annual trip from Winnipeg costs between $150,000 to $200,000. The money raised this year will be banked for the next trip, hopefully in 2019, Hedden said.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

In October 2012 a medical team of surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists and support stuff traveled from Winnipeg to Managua, Nicaragua to perform knee replacements for those who normally could not afford surgeries. Free Press photojournalist Phil Hossack documented the trip.
<br>Prior to the trip nurse Karen Watchorn shifts supplies in a St. James warehouse readying the inventory for shipment to Nicaraugua.Operation Walk: Nicaragua
In October 2012 a medical team of surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists and support stuff traveled from Winnipeg to Managua, Nicaragua to perform knee replacements for those who normally could not afford surgeries. Free Press photojournalist Phil Hossack documented the trip.
Prior to the trip nurse Karen Watchorn shifts supplies in a St. James warehouse readying the inventory for shipment to Nicaraugua.
Jordan Middlestead, a recipient of multiple hip replacements himself, sorts and positions gear to be shipped to Managua for Operation Walk.
Jordan Middlestead, a recipient of multiple hip replacements himself, sorts and positions gear to be shipped to Managua for Operation Walk.
A delivery man juggles a stack of boxes as the Op-Walk’s medical supplies arrive at the hospital in Managua.
A delivery man juggles a stack of boxes as the Op-Walk’s medical supplies arrive at the hospital in Managua.
A badly crippled man makes his way on hands and knees through a Managua public market. Winnipeg’s Operation Walk team arrived in the Nicaraguan Capitol to treat people like him who depend on their own mobility to survive in the central American country.
A badly crippled man makes his way on hands and knees through a Managua public market. Winnipeg’s Operation Walk team arrived in the Nicaraguan Capitol to treat people like him who depend on their own mobility to survive in the central American country.
Family (some bearing gifts) arrive at Managua’s Hospital Escuelda.
Family (some bearing gifts) arrive at Managua’s Hospital Escuelda.

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.

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