As you might know, health care crises are a common occurrence in most parts of Africa. Many rural Africans have very little, if any, access to health care. Over the years, we have conducted several projects to provide medical equipment and medicine to help sick or disabled people. By participating directly in each project, I have learned much not only about the great need for assistance in these areas, but also about ways to improve on our efforts. I would like to share with you my experiences from some of our more recent health care projects.
I began one journey from Nairobi, Kenya on board a nine passenger plane with a team of six medical doctors and a nurse. On a trip like this one, the transport plane usually drops the doctors off in several remote towns and returns to the base. In four days’ time, the plane would then return to pick up the doctors, making stops in 4 or 5 towns along the way.
On this day, I left our plane, with two doctors and a nurse, in Wajir, a small town in a hot, humid desert near the Somalian border. There was no time to waste, so the work began immediately upon our arrival. Because the medical specialists come to this remote site only a few times per year, some of the patients had been waiting for many months to see a doctor. The medical team was prepared to work from dawn to dusk, seeing patient after patient and performing surgeries.
As I watched the crowd surrounding the hospital, I saw people fighting and arguing among themselves to get the opportunity to see the doctor. As people waited to be
seen, there was chaos outside the clinic. Most of these people had traveled long distances to see the doctor. They camped outside the hospital in any shady place they could find to wait. Some patients were carried in by bicycle or donkey cart. For these people this day was simply a matter of life and death, because if they did not get to see the doctor this time, they might not survive until the next visit.
A nurse and one staff member were trying their best to keep order in the crowd outside the clinic so that those most needy would be able to see the doctor first. The temperature was almost 100 degrees in the shade, and there was no air conditioning in the tiny facility. I felt sorry for the doctor and patients sitting in the little examining room.
I spoke with the doctor during his lunch break. I asked him how he coped with the chaos and having to treat patients in such a desperate situation. He calmly said, “Sometimes I simply have to close the door and go for a walk. There are times when the people even try to break down the door.” In spite of this, the doctor admitted that he understands the reason for the patients’ behavior. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much he could do to make things better. However, in spite of all the hard work and long hours, when I saw the doctor in the evening he was calm and smiling.
This project, although much needed and well received, was a painful and difficult experience for me. It made me aware of the large scale and desperate need for health care that exists in this part of the world. Nobody wants to be sick or live with serious illness in constant suffering without medicine or health care. Inspired by this visit, we have taken one more step forward in our efforts to help. We have now set up a program to sponsor doctors and health care specialists, and transport them to such desperately needy places.
On my last trip to Africa, while in Nairobi, we held medical camps in two different
districts for this purpose. In the Maragwa district, I traveled to Makuyu with two doctors, Dr. Kofe, a pediatrician, and Dr. Macha, a geriatric specialist. A local MP, Mr. Ethis Mbau, joined the special event on both days. As we arrived in Makuyu Hospital, the doctors set up their rooms and began examining patients. Because the babies and children had all kinds of diseases to which I might not be immune, I was warned to be careful. Better still, I should probably stay away from the little examining room altogether. But since I wanted to understand first hand how the system worked, I decided to stay with Dr. Kofe for a while, as she did not seem to mind.
After examining her second patient, Dr. Kofe handed a prescription to the young mother. With a sad face, she simply stood there with her baby in her arms, holding the piece of paper. When Dr. Kofe asked if she had any further problems, she answered in a soft, sad voice. She explained that she had no money to buy the medicine her baby needed. The prescription was useless to her. As Dr. Kofe translated, her words touched me deeply. I told Joseph, the man who was my driver, to take her to the pharmacy and buy her the medicine she needed. Soon we realized that most of the mothers had the same problem, and for this very reason, most of their children had never been seen by a doctor. After discussion with the doctors, we came up with a plan to provide a certain amount of money to every patient to assist in the filling of the prescriptions. Joseph would be responsible for the distribution of the funds. By the end of the first day, each doctor had seen and treated over 50 patients. They worked until late in the evening. At the end of the day, the doctors knew we needed to return, because there were just too many needy people here and not enough hours in which to treat them all. But the doctors
were already scheduled to travel to another city the following day. I felt sorry for those who didn’t get a chance to see the doctors, but was happy that we had at least helped those we could.
Learning from the situation in Makuyu, the doctors decided to start even earlier on the second day. They began seeing patients in the Maragwa Hospital at 7am, with only a 15-minute break for lunch, treating as many of the most seriously ill as they could until evening. Again, the desperate situation reinforced the need to return as soon as possible. We had been to the Maragwa District hospital on a previous visit to donate an oxygen concentrator, so I was well aware of the specific needs of this area. My experience working in these rural African villages has allowed me to set up a more efficient system of providing medical care to those in the direst need. Through local officials and contacts, I designate the areas where doctors are most needed. Through nurses and local health care contacts, I determine what the specific needs are in a particular area, such as pediatric care, dental surgery, geriatrics, or orthopedics.I then contact the African Medical Research Foundation, with whom we have a great relationship, and request the proper specialist. We set up dates, times, and places and provide transportation to the doctors. Within 24 hours of providing the information to the locals, hundreds of people will have arrived to await treatment.
After each visit, the doctors provide reports of the patients seen and the services provided. In some cases, we also paid for necessary prescriptions. I then report back to our friends and sponsors worldwide. In Makuyu, as on many other occasions, I discovered that being in the field, directly involved with the people, can help me to do things right and be as effective as possible. This is one way to ensure that those we help get the best out of our efforts.
I personally feel that helping those who are sick and suffering without proper care is a noble and wholesome deed. I am grateful to all those who support and assist in our ongoing efforts.