Hokule'a also bringing gift of medical teams
Aloha Medical Mission volunteers will contribute to the Hokule'a's goal of bringing people together with a medical mission to Micronesia during the canoe's current voyage in the western Pacific.
Nainoa Thompson, Polynesian Voyaging Society navigator and sail master, and Dr. Ramon Sy, founder of the nonprofit Aloha Medical Mission, conceived the idea last year.
"Nainoa had a vision of sharing culture, and health being one of the facets to that, that is our contribution," said Dr. Lisa Grininger, a general surgeon who will lead one of the AMM teams.
FOLLOW ALONG» Follow the voyage of Hokule'a at the Polynesian Voyaging Society web site at: www.pvs.hawaii.org
"This is a first for us to be partnering," said Dr. Vernon Ansdell, a specialist in internal and tropical medicine and veteran AMM volunteer. He will head a team leaving Friday for Chuuk (or Truk), and Grininger will leave with her team Feb. 26 for Pohnpei. Two groups of doctors and nurses also will visit Yap during March 2-9 and 21-31.
Ansdell said they hoped to coordinate so they would be working on the islands as the Hokule'a travels through Micronesia.
But because of delays in the canoe's departure, the medical teams may see the canoe only on Pohnpei and Yap, he said.
Ansdell plans to return to Hawaii March 5 and join the second group of volunteers at Yap later in the month. The teams for Yap are still being formed, but the overall Micronesia mission probably will total 20 to 25 volunteers, Ansdell said.
The Aloha Medical Mission has sent more than 84 missions to 10 countries since it was formed in 1983, with volunteers paying their own way.
Micronesia has 607 islands spread across a million square miles of ocean, of which 65 islands are populated.
The medical teams hope to fly or go by boat to outlying islands where the needs are greatest, Ansdell said.
He said Micronesians have many health problems because of "diseases of Westernization," such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and complications from those illnesses.
They also suffer from stroke and heart attacks, hygiene- and sanitation-related health problems and more exotic diseases such as dengue and filariasis, Ansdell said. Also known as elephantiasis, filariasis is caused by a small parasitic worm spread by mosquitoes that blocks lymphatic channels, causing swollen arms and legs, he said.
The doctors also will be looking into a mysterious skin disease that has been recognized on one of Chuuk's remote islands for about 20 years, Ansdell said. Grininger said it appears to be a skin rash that is red and blotchy like Spam, which is how it got the nickname "Spam disease."
About 100 people have been affected, and the cause isn't known, Ansdell said.
"We have seen some pictures. We have some pretty good ideas what it might be."
He said they hope to collect biopsy samples and get them back to Honolulu to identify possible causes of the rash.
Grininger and a urologist in her group probably will work with physicians at the hospital on Pohnpei while primary care doctors go to small clinics and dispensaries, she said.
A major goal is to establish an ongoing relationship with doctors and people on the islands they visit, Ansdell and Grininger said.
"Fortunately they have e-mail, so once we've met and come back, we can continue to communicate and send more teams in the future," Grininger said.