By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Venturan to accept posthumous award to her father


Courtesy photo: Nathan Barlow and wife Doris care for infants at the well-baby clinic in Ethiopia.

Nathan Barlow, a doctor who spent most of his medical career ministering to the poor in Africa, will be inducted posthumously into the Medical Mission Hall of Fame at the University of Toledo College of Medicine.

On April 5, Barlow's daughter, Sharon Daly of Ventura, will accept the honor on behalf of her father, whose launch of the Mossy Foot Project in Ethiopia resulted in more than 15 clinics across the country, treating tens of thousands of needy patients.

"My dad dedicated his life to serving the impoverished in Africa, working in Ethiopia from the end of 1945 until 1977, when the communist regime took all the mission hospitals," Daly said. "For many years Daddy was the only doctor for over a million people; running a hospital, having a full surgical load, setting up a public health system, and well-baby clinic he was a visionary who was always trying to improve the plight of the people."

Although Barlow died in 2004 at age 91, that work — treating thousands of patients yearly — continues. This includes the Mossy Foot Project, which is devoted to treating the disease with medicine, surgery, shoes, vocational training and the Gospel message.

Barlow began the first Mossy Foot Treatment and Prevention Center in 1997, partnering with doctors at Soddo Christian Hospital, with which he had been affiliated for many years.

In 1945, Barlow — who earned his medical degree from UC Berkeley — took his wife, Doris, and their four children to Africa to do missionary work. The family served in the Wolaitta region of Ethiopia until the establishment of a Marxist government in 1977.

A legend in the region

To this day, as a result of his dedication, Barlow is considered a legend in southern Ethiopia, where he treated every condition from gunshot wounds to spinal meningitis to bowel obstructions to blinding diseases of the eye, all in a hospital that would be considered primitive by today's standards.

"He was a staunch believer in training the nationals in medical work wherever he went and was a gifted teacher," said his daughter, adding that many of his students went out into the countryside and established out-clinics.

A gifted teacher, Barlow also started a school for wound-dressers who became nurses, lab technicians, community health workers and surgeons.

"He trained many men to go throughout the Wolaitta province giving vaccinations to help prevent epidemics such as typhus and typhoid," Daly said.

While the new Ethiopian government precipitated the Barlows' departure from that country, Nathan and his wife, Doris, who died at 78, continued their medical mission work in Niger, Kenya, Zaire and the Central African Republic.

Despite a serious bout with malaria, Barlow became involved in treatment of mossy foot disease, a debilitating condition found primarily in rural districts on people who work in soil of volcanic origin.

The startling condition causes swelling and ulcers in the feet and lower legs. This deformity, swelling, repeated ulceration and secondary infections make people with mossy foot social outcasts equivalent to those with leprosy.

"He saw some mossy foot disease as early as the '50s, did some surgery on the diseased feet and tried various treatments," said Daly, who continues to oversee the Mossy Foot Project, a nonprofit organization, along with her husband, Jim. "As people saw that there was someone who wanted to help them, more and more mossy foot patients came for treatment."

Through generations

Barlow's work will continue to have a ripple effect for many years, Sharon Daly said.

"Dad trained many people in Africa to do medical work," she said. "From these have come children and grandchildren who are in the medical profession today helping other Africans."

When Barlow died in 2004, there were four mossy foot clinics, and vocational training in shoemaking and weaving.

"Vocational training is important because it removes the people from the volcanic soil, which is the cause of their disease," Sharon said.

Today, there are 15 clinics, treating people from 90 villages. This summer, the Mossy Foot Treatment and Prevention Association will open five more clinics, thus reaching 115 villages.

"Today, the vocational training has expanded, adding hair dressing, barbering, carpentry, bike repair and radio repair," Sharon said. "These people who were very impoverished, and many beggars, now are able to return to their villages, make a living and be accepted back into society."

Sharon and Jim Daly are now looking to build an international research center where people can go from other countries around the world to learn about setting up and running a project to deal with mossy foot disease in their countries.

"This is a disease that can be totally eliminated worldwide," Sharon Daly said. "That's our goal."

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