Dr. Avinash Ketwaroo grew up in Jamaica and knows that the country needs more advanced gastrointestinal care options.
That’s why earlier this year, he returned home to lead a Baylor Global Health team on a medical mission to teach local doctors how to perform a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
“There is only a handful of people doing ERCP in the whole Caribbean, and as a result there are issues with access to care,” said Ketwaroo, assistant professor of gastroenterology and a Baylor Global Health Scholar at the time of the mission.
ERCP is a procedure in which the doctor uses a scope through the throat to examine the digestive system, as well as manipulate the pancreas, bile duct and liver. It can be used to diagnose and treat problems such as blockages in the bile duct or complications due to pancreatic cancer without the need for invasive surgery.
“In experienced hands, this procedure is straightforward and can often be completed in less than an hour. The patient may be able to go home the same day,” Ketwaroo said. “With this technique, we can significantly decrease the morbidity and mortality associated with diseases of the pancreas and liver.”
But to perform the procedure, gastroenterologists and technicians require in-depth training and access to equipment, which is why ERCPs remain limited in the Caribbean. Ketwaroo, who also was a gastroenterologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, wanted to find a way to change that. In 2019, he worked with Americares, a global health organization, to obtain funding for equipment and scopes to take back with him to Jamaica.
His team delivered the equipment in November 2019, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his plans to return to Jamaica to train physicians on the procedure were put on pause. This spring, he was finally able to make the trip to Montego Bay to complete the work he started. He and Jose Aguilar, an endoscopy technician at the VA, performed the first two ERCPs in western Jamaica, and trained local doctors on the procedure. Thanks to donations, the two patients received their medical care at no cost to them.
Ketwaroo is leaving the College this summer, but he plans to continue collaborating with Baylor Global Health on medical missions to the Caribbean and has another trip scheduled with Baylor colleagues for later this summer. He credits Baylor Global Health with creating a supportive network that fosters the ability for faculty go on medical mission trips.
“We are so proud to provide world-class care to patients here in Houston and also to be able to export that same quality care around the world,” Ketwaroo said.
By Molly Chiu