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By Mary Clause | Pennlive.com | Aug. 8, 2010

Two midstate doctors said the massacre of six American medical missionaries — including one from Lancaster — in Afghanistan last week won’t stop them from traveling abroad to provide free surgery to Third World residents.

Dr. Domingo T. Alvear, a Harrisburg pediatric surgeon and the founder of the World Surgical Foundation, and Dr. Mukul Parikh, a Mechanicsburg-area anesthesiologist, said Sunday that they were deeply saddened to hear of the killings.

“This is the worst thing that can ever happen to people like us who are helping others,”said Alvear, who in the last 12 years has led his group on about 20 medical missions to provide surgery to 3,700 people in the Philippines, Thailand, India, Honduras, Ecuador, Ethiopia and Haiti.

Ten medical missionaries last week were gunned down in Afghanistan after a two-week medical mission about 160 miles north of Kabul.

The group included Glen Lapp, 40, a nurse from Lancaster. The team represented the International Assistance Mission in partnership with the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief group based in Akron in Lancaster County.

Lapp went to Afghanistan in 2008 and was to remain until October, the group said. Although trained as a nurse, he was not working as a medic but served as an executive assistant for the International Assistance Mission and manager of its provincial ophthalmic care program, said Cheryl Zehr Walker, a spokeswoman for the Mennonite group, which partners with the International Assistance Mission.

He had volunteered with relief efforts for hurricanes Katrina and Rita and worked as a nurse in Lancaster, New York City and Supai, Ariz. His mother, Mary, said Sunday the family was referring calls to the Mennonite group.

The bullet-riddled bodies were found Friday and returned to Kabul on Sunday. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the workers were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

 

Dirk Frans, the director of the International Assistance Mission, has said that the medical group does not proselytize.

Unfortunately, many people around the world consider Americans “imperialists instead of the most generous people in the world in terms of giving aid to everyone. Also even if you aren’t preaching, they think you are,” Alvear said.

“The United States is the most generous country in the world, bar none,” Alvear said. “Eighty percent of the world’s surgical needs are not being met. People are dying, disabled and suffering. We go to other countries to meet some of those needs. I’m saddened by what happened in Afghanistan. But it won’t make me not go on trips.”

 

The percent of these kinds of incidents is small, said Parikh, who, with his wife, Dr. Neelima Parikh, also an anesthesiologist, has been on eight World Surgical Foundation international trips.

“This won’t deter me from going,”he said. “Our son, a urology resident, came with us to India. Our youngest son, a first-year surgical resident at PinnacleHealth, may eventually come with us. We never had a problem on our trips. I’ve never felt like we were in danger.”

Alvear said that dangerous countries often have the greatest medical needs. He said that the foundation is sending a surgical team to Haiti in a few weeks even though the situation is still volatile because of the great need for surgery there. Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake on Jan. 12.

Parikh recommended that medical mission teams avoid countries considered dangerous.

“I’m originally from India,” he said. “But if I was in an area of insurgency in India, I would be scared. Take warnings absolutely seriously.”

 

Last month, six members of a Selinsgrove-area church group on a mission to Kampala, Uganda, were injured during one of two terrorist bombings that killed more than 70 people.

Alvear said that medical team members working abroad should not get involved with the political problems of the country they are visiting.

“Don’t preach religion,” he said. “Stay with your group. Keep your focus on your mission of taking care of the underserved, improving health care and teaching local doctors and nurses.”

How you can help

Mail checks to the World Surgical Foundation, Box 1006, Camp Hill, PA 17001.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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