Unified head of the Department of Surgery Dr. Ivar Mendez. (photo by David Stobbe)

USask unites: Doctor volunteers to support COVID-19 efforts in Bolivia

Helping the community where he was born, Dr. Ivar Mendez has decided to take a six-month unpaid leave as department head of surgery at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) beginning Jan 1, 2021, to provide pandemic support in Bolivia.

“It’s a humanitarian endeavour,” said Mendez, who joined USask’s College of Medicine and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) as unified head of surgery in 2013. “I am making a personal contribution—one that is important. It’s something that I feel I have to do.” 

According to Mendez, while deaths due to COVID-19 are at about 10,000 in both Canada and Bolivia, Bolivia’s population is significantly less at about 10 million compared to Canada’s population of nearly 38 million.  

“Health-care workers, particularly physicians, have been hard hit in Bolivia and are dying at an alarming rate due to COVID-19,” he said. “Their mortality rate is second globally only to Venezuela.”  

Upon his arrival in Bolivia, Mendez will voluntarily lead a virtual care initiative to ensure the safety of physicians and other health-care workers. It will reflect his work in the development of virtual care for remote populations in Saskatchewan and Northern Canada.  

“Preserving their health means patients can be cared for, so it is a very significant need and one I can help with,” he said. “And by offering my services voluntarily, accepting no payment, I will have decision-making freedom and independence to ensure a valuable contribution.” 

Mendez’s colleagues in the Department of Surgery support his decision. His leadership role will be filled on an acting basis by Dr. Brian Ulmer. Ulmer, a senior vascular surgeon, is currently serving as the SHA’s Saskatoon area lead for the Department of Surgery. Dr. John Shaw and Dr. Richard Bigsby will cover Ulmer’s duties as area lead for the six-month period. 


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