Haiti, so much on our minds today because of its calamitous earthquake, is where the idea was formed. It was while visiting there in 1928 that Dr. Paluel Flagg, an anesthesiologist from St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, was so moved by the plight of the victims of leprosy that upon his return to the States he began recruiting physicians, nurses and missionaries to volunteer for medical mission service in developing countries. CMMB, Catholic Medical Mission Board, was founded.What began as a modest initiative in a New York brownstone today enjoys the unique status as a medical shipper and an international health agency with access to health facilities around the world.
As set forth in its mission statement, CMMB is rooted in the healing ministry of Jesus and works collaboratively to provide quality health care programs and services, without discrimination, to people in need around the world. In the late 1940s it attracted considerable attention when Bishop Fulton Sheen, already a prominent TV personality, joined its board and persuaded pharmaceutical companies to donate medicines. Ever since it has enjoyed corporate, private and foundation support.
Now, 80 years later, CMMB is a highly trusted and respected partner in the cause of global health. Rooted in and guided by its Catholic faith, is serves the needy regardless of their faith. In recent years its collaborative work with other health organizations has included proactive AIDS programs and maternal-child health programs and hospice care in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It also provides emergency relief materials and funds to areas affected by natural disasters. Because of its respected and close relationship with local agencies, CMMB is able to ensure the distribution of these supplies to the remotest areas.
CMMB’s website gives the impressive statistics. In 2009 the organization sent 431 shipments of pharmaceutical and medical supplies valued at $265 million to recipients in 39 countries. In 2008 it placed 475 short term and 73 long term medical volunteers in locations in 27 countries in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Its presence in Haiti was extensive even before the tragic earthquake.
In addition to serving the medically deprived overseas, CMMB also serves those is this country who seek an opportunity to “make a difference”. It encourages and accommodates medical professionals interested in volunteering their skills and commitment. In doing so, it helps them help advance the Kingdom.