Dr. Bertram Zarins teaching arthroscopic surgery to doctors in Latvia.
In 1989 the First World Latvian World Congress of Medicine was held in Soviet Latvia. Six thousand healthcare professionals from Latvia and 250 Latvian physicians from the United States and other countries attended this conference. The doctors from the free world saw first-hand the tragic state of health facilities in Latvia and pledged to provide Latvia with essential medical support. Through these efforts, the Latvian Medical Foundation (LMF) was founded in 1990 in Massachusetts.
The Latvian Medical Foundation’s initial goals were to provide emergency medical supplies to Latvia, which became free in 1991. The sudden collapse of the Soviet Union left the newly independent Latvia lacking the basic medical supplies needed by the Latvian public. The Latvian Medical Foundation responded by mobilizing support of the Latvian community and sending more than $400,000 worth of medical supplies and medications to Latvia. Together with Project Hope, LMF participated in bringing emergency medical supplies to Latvia from the United States, which was delivered by Vice President Daniel Quayle in 1992. Dr. Bertram Zarins introduce arthroscopy into Latvia and brought in $350,000 worth of equipment. Dr. Christopher Zarins did the same in vascular surgery and delivered $260,000 in medical equipment. Boston’s Norman Knight donated $30,000 to provide new internet capabilities for the University Hospital.
After about two years, the medical crisis in Latvia had eased and Latvia began to rebuild. For the next five years, LMF provided valuable assistance to various hospitals and professional medical organizations and aided in the reorganization of medical care in Latvia. Dr. Ilze Lakstīgala donated $100,000 for upgrading the Riga Stradins University Stomatology (Dental) Institute.
As the healthcare system improved and the Latvians were able to stand on two feet, the focus the LMF changed to improving the quality of medical care in Latvia. The doctors in Latvia were intelligent and dedicated, but were not up to world standards in knowledge. Therefore, in 2003, with the support of Boston philanthropist Norman Knight, a traveling fellowship was established to allow young Latvian doctors to study abroad and bring newly acquired knowledge back to Latvia. This has remained the mainstay of LMF philanthropic activities in Latvia.