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WMI International
By Tod Schimelpfenig, WMI Curriculum Director

WMI students in Patagonia practice their patient assessment skills.
© Luis Camargo

It’s Day 6 of your Wilderness First Responder course. Scenario # 25:

Picture yourself camped at the edge of the trees, the sun setting as you start dinner. Your companion heads off for more water. In the distance you hear the stampeding of hooves and a faint but persistent scream for help. You leap to your feet and assess the scene for hazards. You expect to see a raging moose or an angry bison. But wait. Is that a herd of zebras kicking up their heels in the distance? Did a group of kangaroos just bounce on your mate? Did guanacos just trample the traveler?

Unrealistic, you think? Not anymore. WMI now spans the globe teaching wilderness medicine from Chile to India, from Australia to Sweden, from Thailand to Tanzania.

When I taught Wilderness First Responder Courses in Kenya, we adapted our practices to the realities of the medical gear, communication and medical transportation systems, or lack thereof, in East Africa. The disinfectants and dressings for wound care are different, backboards and cervical collars hard to find, and a Lifeflight helicopter a North American dream. In many ways this is right up our wilderness medicine alley. Our curriculum prepares people to improvise and adapt, our expedition experience prepares us for the realities of evacuating from remote places.

When instructing internationally, we also have to learn about the local animal and plant hazards and unfamiliar diseases. And then, as always, we need to understand the local folklore medical practices, and know what to say when someone explains about a magic black rock that is well known to draw snake venom through the skin and save the victim.

Our largest international programs currently are our course offerings in Chile with NOLS Patagonia, and our affiliation with the Wilderness Medicine Institute of Australia.

WMI Australia has been teaching the WMI curriculum to the Australian outdoor industry since 1999. This spring WMI Australia purchased Wilderness First Aid Consultants, its sole competitor on the continent.

Last month 18 Australians, three “seppos” and a mob of kangaroos participated in our first WMI Instructor Training Course (ITC) in Australia. Actually the kangaroos simply grazed on the lawn, while the rest of us worked on merging these two successful businesses, their curriculum and staff. WMI Australia plans to increase the number and scope of courses they offer, and establish consistent wilderness treatment and evacuation guidelines throughout the country. If you want to learn about truly venomous creatures, take a course with WMI Australia!

WMI’s offerings in Spanish are expanding quickly as well. WMI and NOLS Patagonia are now working with the non-profit Organization for Environmental Education and Protection in Colombia (OpEPA) to provide greater access to wilderness medicine training in South America.

In 2000, several South American WMI staff (Luis Camargo, Nicole Zangen and Camilo Camargo) created the Instituto de Medicina para Areas Silvestres (IMAS) as part of OpEPA, with the goal of promoting tropical wilderness medicine and Spanish training opportunities in wilderness first aid. This group started developing curriculum for tropical medicine specific to the environments and the large amount of critters living in the tropics (serpents, insects, parasites and viruses among others).

Now, countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina have access to the WMI curriculum in their native language.

So, whether you need to be informed about serpientes, lagartos or arañas del rincón, or want to understand that sphygmomanometer in Kiswahali is kifaa cha kupima nguvu ya damu, WMI has the program for you. But remember, whatever you do, don’t call your beltpack a fanny pack while in Australia. It’s bad for your health.

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Tips for International Wilderness Medicine

As with any expedition, plan ahead and prepare!

Research the local plants, animals and environmental conditions. www.cdc.gov/travel/ is a good place to start and will give you information on local disease, vaccinations, how to avoid illness from food and water and traveling with children, as well as providing links to numerous related sites.

Use the principles from your NOLS Emergency Procedure class and research the evacuation possibilities. Where is the nearest hospital, what are its capabilities and how might you get there? Is there a local rescue service or, are you on your own to get to the hospital?

What might you need to add to your first aid kit? There may be specific medications recommended for the area you’re traveling through.

What if you need to be evacuated back to the U.S.? Your health insurance might have a provision for this, or you might be able to purchase extra trip insurance with an air evacuation option.

How might you communicate with the outside world? If you’re bringing a satellite phone are there any restrictions imposed by your host country?

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