Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Wednesday, July 27 2011
Snapshot: Dr. Martina C. Fuchs
Dr. Martina C. Fuchs is the founder and CEO of the Real Medicine Foundation, which she created in May 2005 after being inspired by lessons she learned working for months in the tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka. She established a children’s clinic in an area devastated by the tsunami and realized that even though aid for immediate needs often is provided, people’s lives remain shattered long after physical trauma is no longer an issue.
Real Medicine Foundation provides humanitarian support to people affected by disaster and poverty, providing immediate relief as well as longer term development support. Real Medicine, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Los Angeles, treats more than six million people annually.
Projects are in Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Southern Sudan, Uganda, India, Indonesia, Myanmar/Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Armenia, the United States, Haiti, and Peru. As of March 11, 2011, Real Medicine is also supporting the relief efforts following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Fuchs is a pediatrician who has worked and trained at Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Germany; Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; and Dr. Félix Bulnes Hospital, Santiago, Chile, among others. She holds a Ph.D. in pediatric psychiatry and graduated magna cum laude from Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität. She holds a fellowship in pediatric intensive care and is also trained in alternative medicine.
Womenetics: How did you happen to be working in Sri Lanka?
Martina Fuchs: I decided to support the relief efforts, as a pediatrician, after the Asian tsunami of December 2004. I worked in Sri Lanka for six weeks in February and March 2005 and helped to establish a children’s clinic in one of the refugee camps in the South. This work, without my knowing at that time, gave birth to the Real Medicine Foundation.
Womenetics: There are so many disaster-relief organizations. What makes Real Medicine Foundation different?
Fuchs: Real Medicine Foundation provides humanitarian support to people living in disaster and poverty stricken areas and continues to help communities long after the world’s spotlight has faded. We believe that “real” medicine is focused on the person as a whole by providing medical/physical, emotional, economic, and social support.
Womenetics: I’ve spoken with people who have been on the ground in Haiti, and I heard that some of the smaller relief organizations just get in the way of the larger ones. Do you see this problem occurring?
Fuchs: As long as the money donated to these organizations gets to the people who really need it, everyone is needed. The need in Haiti is still tremendous with a third of the population in Port-au-Prince still living in tents.
Womenetics: Real Medicine partners with existing organizations. But what does it mean that you create effective models and sustainable solutions via those partnerships?
Fuchs: We create models and sustainable solutions wherever we work since we believe that if a model is good enough, it should work everywhere. For instance, we designed and built our own mobile clinic in Mozambique, still the only mobile clinic in the country. This clinic is a model that, with available funding, can be implemented anywhere.
Womenetics: How do you provide emotional support to those who have experienced a disaster?
Fuchs: We established our psychological trauma support program following Katrina. We worked with the Catholic School System in Memphis, training teachers, counselors, parents, and caregivers on how to identify and support traumatized children who had to leave life as they knew it behind. We were supported in this program by volunteer teams led by Dr. Kevin Becker, from the Institute of Trauma and Crisis at Harvard.
We then applied this model to support children here in Los Angeles where our organization is headquartered: 16,000 children are homeless in Los Angeles at any given point in time; 650,000 live below poverty level. We add this emotional/psychological support to our programs around the world depending on available funding.
Womenetics: I understand that Real Medicine Foundation is supporting the relief efforts in Japan. What kind of support are you providing?
Fuchs: We are working directly with an NGO, JEN, in Japan, providing support where it is needed the most – soup kitchens, community cafes/psychosocial care, rubble and sludge clearance, assistance to revitalize small and mid-sized businesses, etc.
Womenetics: What led you into the medical field?
Fuchs: I made the decision to go into medicine when I was 15 years old because I was so impressed by the physicians who treated me when I had all my wisdom teeth removed as an inpatient. Shortly after that, I decided to become a pediatrician. I was especially interested in working with children and felt that by being a pediatrician I could have the biggest impact.
Womenetics: How did you being a pediatrician lead to disaster relief work?
Fuchs: It was basically the images of the children on TV and online following the December 2004 tsunami that inspired me to do this work. It was my first time doing it, and I didn’t really plan to initiate an organization. But here we are, six years later, working in 15 countries over four continents, reaching a target population of six million persons.
Womenetics: Who was the biggest influence in your life?
Fuchs: There were many different persons and mentors along the way. I feel that everyone who came into my life contributed a piece to the whole.
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.