This story is from UCLA Today, a discontinued print and web publication.

Tecate Rx

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The scene in front of the makeshift medical clinic one Saturday last fall could have been lifted from the nightly news. Weary mothers cradled listless babies while flies circled their faces. Diapered toddlers with painful-looking skin disorders crouched in the dust.
 
Most of the families arrived on foot, several before dawn. By 11 a.m., it was 95 degrees in the shade. Yet this wasn't Somalia or some other far-flung humanitarian crisis spot. And the response wasn't organized by UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders or any other well-known relief organization. This was Cerro Azul, in Tecate, Mexico, and the caregivers were Bruins.
 
For eight years, the undergraduate group Chicanos for Community Medicine (CCM) has traveled four times a year to this valley of chronic unemployment on the outskirts of Tecate. With a handful of volunteer physicians, medical residents and pharmacists, the service club organizes medical screenings, evaluations and handouts of medication for all comers.
 
Within a half hour of their arrival in Cerro Azul, 22 undergraduates had turned a derelict community center without electricity into a one-stop relief center with a makeshift waiting room, examining room, pharmacy, repository for hundreds of medical records collected since the project’s inception, and a distribution center for donated food, clothes and toys. It wasn’t a moment too soon for the 185 unfortunate souls treated that day.
 
The doctors prescribed — and gave — folic acid to a mother of three who was six weeks pregnant, medication to a diabetic whose blood sugar had escalated to three times its healthy level and acid-reflux medications to a woman with chest pain.
 
The clinic is the brainchild of Dr. Takashi Michael Wada, who earned his M.D. and M.P.H. degrees at UCLA. He learned of the plight of Cerro Azul from a church member who had grown up nearby.
 
"An infant had just died of dehydration, which is preventable," Wada recalled. "She asked if I'd be willing to come down and look at some other families that were having medical problems and that didn't have access to medical care."
 
When CCM group members learned of Wada's activities, they asked to accompany him. Soon the undergrads were raising money to buy medical equipment, medication and food for Cerro Azul residents, as well as for Los Angeles day laborers and Central Valley farmworkers. Now the students line up transportation and enlist professional volunteers, including doctors, pharmacists and occasionally dentists. They even coordinate with a Cerro Azul resident who announces upcoming visits over a loudspeaker attached to his truck.
 
The 16-hour round-trip commute from Westwood makes for a grueling day, but the students don't mind.
 
"Without us, they don't have medical care," said first-year UCLA medical student Marc Montecillo, who started making trips to Tecate as a UCLA biology undergraduate. "It's a very important job that we're doing here."
 
"Pretty much the entire trip is organized by the students," said Wada, now director of the Pasadena Public Health Department. "I just have to show up that day. They do an amazing job."
 
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