Help for the Forgotten

The Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) dates back to 1913 when Dr. Paluel Flagg a young anesthesiology resident in New York, visited the Caribbean. Deeply upset by the many there suffering from leprosy, he returned with the idea of creating medical missions working in foreign countries. In 1922, Flagg founded the Medical Mission Committee of the Catholic Hospital Association to establish, staff, and supply medical missions at home and abroad. In 1928, the Committee assumed independent control of the organization. Volunteer clubs were started across the United States to promote the missions, raising funds by selling canceled stamps, old jewelry, and Christmas cards, and collecting drugs and medical supplies by doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals.

By 1993, CMMB had grown into an international organization whose computerized inventory warehouse and packing system speeds medical supplies to needy areas around the world. In Third World countries, CMMB works through local Church infrastructure, said Sister Maura O'Donohue, MMM, the organization's program director.

About 35 U.S. pharmaceutical companies donate a total of about $45 million worth of drugs each year. Private donors contribute another $5 million or so that goes to pay for administrative expenses, shipments, and special field programs and specific drugs that are requested by clinics, according to Terry Kirch, director of the CMMB. Volunteer doctors and nurses contribute a total of 3,300 days to CMMB, the equivalent of $1.5 million worth of service. For every dollar donated to CMMB, about $15 worth of medical supplies are delivered, said Kirch.

—Lisa Pevtzow