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Local woman organizes medical boot camp in Mongolia

MIDDLEBURY — Sas Carey is still recovering from her summer vacation. To be fair, her summer travels were a bit more intense than most — the Middlebury resident spent July and August in Omnogovi, the South Gobi province of Mongolia, organizing a medical boot camp for doctors from the 16 hospitals within the province.
Carey and her associates donated laboratory equipment to each of the representatives in attendance and then spent the next 16 days training them in how to use it. Nomadicare, the nonprofit organization that Carey founded in 1994 to help preserve the lifestyle of the Mongolian nomads, gave microscopes, reagents, test tubes and racks, and various tests to the Mongolian doctors.
“Our program is unique in that we gave equipment, and they knew how to use every single thing when they left and went back to their hospitals,” Carey said.
In 2007, according to Carey, the Mongolian government had given 14 microscopes to hospitals within the province, but failed to provide training for those who would be using them.
“Four out of 14 of them brought their microscopes with them to our training and said they were broken,” Carey said. “As it turns out, they had just never been trained how to use them.”
In additional to procedural and equipment training, the doctors attended classes in traditional Mongolian medicine and energy healing. Aside from Carey, all of the other teachers and participants hailed from Mongolia and sponsors included the province’s health department and the medical university located in Ulan Bator, the capital of the country.
The point, Carey said, is to bring health care to the rural areas of the provinces. For the sick and injured in Mongolia, the options are slim. According to Carey, herders must travel hundreds of miles to reach the nearest hospital in their provincial capital, and the roads that extend through the territory are nearly nonexistent and in any case, quite treacherous.
“This means they have to lose work, and pay for the lab test on top of that,” Carey explained. “So it’s a really big improvement if they can just do the other. The goal is to upgrade all of the care in the country for the nomads.”
Carey hopes to host a similar program next summer in another province, most likely Khovsgol, located in the north. Eventually, Carey would like to up the number of trainings to two or three per year in hopes of getting to all of the 23 provinces in Mongolia before she retires in nine years.
“I’d love it if I could leverage some big funds and do two or three a year,” Carey said. “My father was hiking in the Alps by 75, and that’s where I’d like to be.”
One of the larger goals of Carey and Nomadicare is to help make these programs sustainable. She hopes that, eventually, the hospitals will be able to purchase their own supplies and no longer need to rely on donations. The lack of government funding currently poses a large challenge to the project.
But there are many challenges involved in providing health care in rural Mongolia.
“It’s all hard,” Carey said.
She was sick the whole time she was visiting the country, and the 110-degree temperatures did nothing to help. Aside from the extreme conditions, the language also poses a barrier for Carey, who recently took up studying Mongolian.
“I want to be able to talk directly to people,” she said. “I’ve been going for 16 years and I have very dear friends there and some of them, I still have to speak with through a translator.”
And as Carey emphasized, travel is no piece of cake.
“You can only go about 20 km an hour,” she said. “You could go faster, but you’d get really jostled around. And there are no bathrooms or running water.”
Carey said that she’s always grateful when she returns to her comfortable home in Middlebury.
So why, then, does she feel the need to try and preserve this harsh, nomadic lifestyle?
Two things, Carey said.
“One, it’s sustainable,” she continued. “And the second is, that’s their way of life and they want it. They love it, and it’s what they’re good at. I don’t blame them if they choose to live the cushy life that we have, but I think that they’re doing the world a service, and so I want to support them.”
Tamara Hilmes is at tamarah@addisonindependent.com.

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