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10th Anniversary of SLIMP Medical Mission Trips Abroad
March 22, 2024

A donated St. Luke’s ambulance in Africa.

April 2024 marks the 10-year-anniversary of the St. Luke’s International Medicine Program (SLIMP), a non-profit, physician-driven project that provides free medical care, physician training and supplies to struggling countries across the globe.

A fundraising event to benefit SLIMP is planned for March 26, 5-8 p.m., at Lost Tavern Brewing, 782 Main Street in Hellertown. Food trucks, live music, and a silent auction of African masks, paintings and other memorabilia will raise funds for the program. A “crutch drive” will reward donors of the walking aids with a coupon for a free beverage. St. Luke’s staff and the general public are invited to attend the event or donate to SLIMP. To make a secure online donation, visit Support the St. Luke’s International Medical Program (SLIMP) (slhn.org).

Over the first decade of SLIMP, more than 30 different medical professionals from St. Luke’s have participated in the trips to Cameroon, Central Africa; Guatemala, Central America; and the Gambia, West Africa.   

The program’s founder, St. Luke’s General Surgeon Richard Sharpe, MD, notes that, while the original purpose of SLIMP was to offer general surgery residents the opportunity to learn and practice medicine overseas in needy nations, its goal now focuses on promoting sustainable improvement in access and quality of health care where it’s greatly needed.

“The program has grown, because of the increased medical needs in these poor places, the interest and participation of St. Luke’s network and clinicians, and the financial support from our Graduate Medical Education office,” said Dr. Sharpe. “It’s incredibly rewarding to donate services and supplies to these needy countries that otherwise wouldn’t have them.”

St. Luke’s doctors have treated or impacted the lives of tens of thousands of patients at the Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Cameroon, alone and taught medicine and surgery to more than 200 students and residents there.

This year, his colleague, Najma Khanani, MD, an internist, psychiatrist and associate director of St. Luke’s rural psychiatry program, will introduce the program to India, a country that she knows well. Two psychiatry residents will accompany Dr. Khanani to India. The trio also will depart in April and serve the local population in a medical clinic in Dhurb, Northwest India. This facility was opened by the village community, support by Dr. Khanani’s father, who was born and lived for years.

“I’m carrying on my Dad’s vision of helping this poor population,” said Dr. Khanani. “We will treat anyone who comes through the door.”

Dr. Sharpe has organized and made the trips twice yearly to the rural Cameroon hospital, joined by attending physicians, fellows, residents and medical students. In early April, he’ll leave on his 18th, month-long mission trip to the 500-bed Mbingo hospital. Physicians from general surgery, OBGYN, critical care and pathology will travel with him, as will Dr. Sharpe’s daughter, Lauren Sharpe, PA-C, emergency medicine/critical care fellow at St. Luke’s.

Their days will be a blur of activity, often lasting 12-15 hours. They’ll “round” on hospitalized patients, teach physicians and assess clinic patients in the morning. For the rest of the day, they’ll be in the OR and may have on-call duties and emergencies to treat well into the night.  

The individual cost for making these trips is $3,000 - $3,500, and most St. Luke’s providers go as volunteers. Much of the funding comes from donations to the program and the GME Program’s Endowment Fund.

Over the years, Dr. Sharpe has collected and shipped hundreds of crates of supplies and equipment to Cameroon, including a “retired” St. Luke’s ambulance, which still is used in Cameroon, and mechanical breathing ventilators, suction machines and endoscopy towers. He’s gathering used crutches to send to the hospital for leg trauma patients.

Looking ahead, Dr. Sharpe says he hopes to expand the program to the Caribbean or Central America. He will return to Cameroon in November, when Dr. Khanani plans to expand the rural psychiatry program there.

“It’s not a vacation, it’s hard work,” Dr. Sharpe said.  “There is no greater reward than being of service to someone other than oneself.”   

For more information, please visit the SLIMP website: www.stlukesabroad.wordpress.com, or email Dr Sharpe at: richard.sharpe@sluhn.org.