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Dr. Munro Proctor’s move from medicine to microfinance in West Africa

As a cardiologist, Munro Proctor ’48 spent decades fixing the human heart. But it wasn’t until 1992, when he began yearly missions to Cameroon, that he realized healing in West Africa needed more than just medicine.

Although he was treating fatal diseases in Cameroon such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, he quickly realized that poverty was in fact the underlying evil in developing countries. “Families couldn’t even afford the $6 monthly fee for drugs to treat AIDS,” explains Proctor. “Lack of access to health care, education, immunization programs, proper nutrition, clean water, sanitation, and even safety from violence all flowed from poverty.”

So in 1997, after five years in Africa, Proctor switched gears and launched a preventive medicine and microfinance program, offering small loans to impoverished women. In just the first year of operation, he gave more than 100 small loans, ranging from $10 to $25. “I enjoyed practicing medicine, but I always had this feeling that if I died suddenly someone could promptly step into my place,” says Proctor, whose work in the United States included founding the Concord Clinic—now the Dartmouth- Hitchcock Clinic—in New Hampshire. “I wanted to spend, at least, some of my time where physicians were not so plentiful and the needs were greater.”

Through Proctor’s organization in Cameroon, WINHEEDCAM, 20,000 women have received loans to date. The program focuses exclusively on women—many of whom have AIDS—because they are more likely to pass the benefits of the money on to their children, send them to school, and give them proper access to medical treatment. Women are also more likely to repay the loans, and the organization boasts a repayment rate of 85 to 95 percent. In an effort to support the organization, Proctor also founded the U.S.-based *KWIHEED, which raises money to carry out the day-to-day operation of WINHEEDCAM.

In this communal society, the loan recipients borrow in groups of 10-15 women and use the money for simple projects such as digging a hole in the ground and dumping in water and fingerling fish to raise. When mature, the fish are sold in the market place. The women also may buy a piglet for $8, fatten it up and sell it for $150. “Nobody gets rich doing this, but it makes all the difference in the world,” says Proctor proudly.

A native of West Hartford, Proctor entered Trinity in the summer term of 1943, but his studies were disrupted when he enlisted in the Army in September of that year. Upon his return to Trinity in 1946, Proctor was determined to finish his pre-med courses in two-and-a-half years, leaving him two more years of the GI Bill for medical school. In order to achieve this goal, he took an incredible eight courses in his final semester, nearly missing graduation only because he was short on Chapel credits. He subsequently attended medical school at Columbia and did his residencies in internal medicine and cardiology at Harvard.

In 1967, Proctor volunteered on the ship Hope, the world’s first peace-time hospital ship, in Cartagena, Colombia, where the doctors aboard offered free medical treatment. Proctor thought to himself, “This is it.” But with three children, it wasn’t until 1985, just as his daughter Ann was graduating from Trinity (daughter Susan was Class of 1980), that Proctor began to feel the flexibility of his empty-nest lifestyle. So, at 63, he took a one-year position with the World Health Organization where he was sent all over the world on various assignments. From there, he enrolled in a master’s program at the Boston University School of Public Health, and it was there that he met and befriended an African doctor, Tih Pius Muffih, who invited Proctor to assist him at the 250-bed mission hospital he ran in Cameroon.

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