Dermatologist physician assistant travels to India
FORT MYERS — Florida Skin Center physician assistant Shirisha Vallarapu recently returned from a 10-day medical volunteer trip in Araveli, India, where she and 10 other American medical personnel helped to treat and educate more than 2,500 remote villagers.
For her, it was a mission to give back to her parents’ native country, even though they hail from a different region of India. The trip was sponsored by Me to We, a Canada-based social enterprise that secures funding for humanitarian operations worldwide.
Araveli is a remote and tribal area located within an ancient mountain range. There, the group of physician assistants, dermatologists and other medical assistants treated and advised children and adults in a school-turned-temporary clinic. Vallarapu tells Coffee Talk she was struck by the level of poverty and lack of basic knowledge of disease and hygiene among those she treated.
“We educated them on basics like boiling water and basic hygiene that they had no clue about, and that was eye-opening,” says Vallarapu. “The need there compared to how much we have here is staggering. I am using the experience to make my children more aware of how well we have it.” Some children as young as 9 years old walked as far as 5 to 10 kilometers, on their own, to seek treatment, Vallarapu says.
In addition to providing basic hygiene education, she and her colleagues treated them for skin and medical conditions including eczema, bacterial infections, psoriasis, scabies and lice. “We even saw a couple of cases of mumps, which we don’t see in the U.S.,” she says. “There was no awareness that the government in India provides vaccinations for mumps. They had a local doctor there who said mumps are kind of normal. They treat it and let it run its course.”
Vallarapu says she wants to return to her parents’ native Andhra Pradesh in southern India. She follows the professional footsteps of her father, who came to the U.S. to complete his medical residency. “It would be fun to go back to where my parents grew up and give back in that capacity,” she says.
Florida Skin Center has offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres and Punta Gorda. Vallarapu works in the Fort Myers office.