A clinic designed to provide specialized care to immigrants and refugees who have either acquired various illnesses from their birth countries or from travels outside the United States has opened at Grady Memorial Hospital. The Tropical Medicine Clinic opened its doors on August 1, and is led by Phyllis Kozarsky, MD, professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, and Carlos Franco, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Emory. Both Drs. Kozarsky and Franco are experts in travelers' health and tropical medicine.
Deborah Nicolls, MD, an infectious disease fellow at Emory, and Alicia Hidron, MD, chief resident in internal medicine in the Department of Medicine, are also working in the clinic. Carlos del Rio, MD, professor of medicine at Emory and chief of medicine at Grady Hospital, is credited for helping establish the Tropical Medicine Clinic.
The clinic sees patients on the first Monday of each month and is specifically targeted at immigrants and refugees seeking care for various tropical infectious diseases but do not have adequate insurance to cover blood work, CAT scans and other necessary diagnostic tests. Doctors also see people who have traveled outside the United States and who come back ill. Other patients seen at the clinic have never been screened for chronic diseases. The doctors hope to expand the clinic's hours as the demand increases.
Dr. Kozarsky says the need is great given the increasing number of immigrants living in the metropolitan Atlanta area.
"We've been thinking about having a clinic like this for a number of years and have wanted to be able to take care of immigrants and refugees in a setting like Grady," says Dr. Kozarsky, who serves as co-director of the clinic and medical director of TravelWell, Emory's travelers' health clinic, which offers pre-travel advice and education for those traveling abroad, as well as post-travel care. TravelWell, based both at The Emory Clinic on Clifton Road and Emory Crawford Long Hospital, serves the general public, business travelers, large corporations, volunteers, missionaries, immigrants, and refugees.
"While the education and training of our physicians is excellent, it does not focus on many of the chronic or acute illnesses that many immigrants may bring with them or develop when traveling to visit their friends and family. That's why we were so elated when hospital administration at Grady supported our efforts to open this clinic."
Dr. Franco, who is the clinic's director, says the Tropical Medicine Clinic provides specialized care to immigrants and refugees from countries that include Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.
"Because we're experts in tropical and infectious diseases, we believe we can make a difference with treatment and hopefully provide a little bit of relief," he says. "While we won't be able to cure all of the diseases, we can usually control them or at least stop the progression once we've confirmed the diagnosis with the proper testing and with the medications for these types of illnesses."
So far, physicians have treated a patient for lymphatic filariasis, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes in specific geographical areas, and another for schistosomiasis or bilharzia, a parasitic disease that people acquire through contact with fresh water. Most people become exposed to the disease in Africa and Southeast Asia. Screening is very important because the disease can lead to liver or bladder disease.
Dr. Kozarsky says that although schistosomiasis is not prevalent in the United States, more than 200 million people throughout the world have acquired it, making it a major public health problem worldwide.
Psychiatric support is also available for refugees and immigrants who are experiencing difficulty transitioning to a new country.