A group of 100 health professionals affiliated with the International Medical Alliance are traveling from California to spend 10 days treating very low-income patients in Nicaragua.

Antonio Gonzalez, a dental surgeon with the IMA, told Efe that an initial group of 12 medical professionals began traveling to Tujunga, Ecuador, to perform such work in 2000.

More than a decade later, scores of volunteers provide services that include costly reconstructive surgeries.

The aim is "to perform more charitable work, a humanitarian task, for ... our brothers in Latin America," the Ecuadorian-born Gonzalez told Efe.

"Up to now, we've visited two countries, which are Ecuador and Nicaragua," he added last Sunday while the group was packing up its equipment in preparation for the trip.

The odontologist, who with his health brigade will travel to Peru in 2013, said that the team of volunteers has grown by word of mouth among the networks of healthcare professionals in California.

However, there are other specialists who through the Web page www.internationalmedicalalliance.org are asking to become part of the Medical Brigade.

"There are colleagues, hospitals and medical equipment and pharmaceutical companies who are contributing to IMA so that we can treat as many people as possible," Gonzalez said.

He explained that the group's 2010 and 2011 visits to Nicaragua were made because the Nicaraguan consul-general in Los Angeles read a news story about the Medical Brigade.

"He sought us out via the Internet and met with the founder, Ines Allen, to whom he explained Nicaragua's health needs," Gonzalez said.

"Besides the experts in prosthetics, plastic and maxilofacial surgeons have joined our team (and) perform reconstructive surgery completely free of charge, including cleft palate (surgery), which costs no less than $100,000," he said.

Argentina-born Carolina Vasconcelos works as a dental assistant in California and has been an IMA volunteer since she learned about the Medical Brigade from surgeon Christopher Tiner, who in 2010 reconstructed part of the face of a man who had crashed his car while driving drunk.

"Just like the entire IMA group and many other organizations who make the effort, who go and help, it doesn't solve the entire problem," Vasconcelos said.

"But it alleviates a little of the health problem (because we perform) operations that change the lives of those people," she said.

Tiner, who works with the Premier plastic surgery team at Huntington Memorial Hospital, told Efe that over the coming year they will provide free health care services in Peru and he emphasized that in each country they add their expertise to the efforts of local doctors with whom they create solid friendships.

"This year, I'll take to Dr. Edgar Alvarado, whom I met in Esteli (Nicaragua), some magnifying glasses to wear to do surgery ... I bought them at a discount through friends who sell that kind of equipment," Tiner said. 

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