We’re just back from another very successful medical mission trip to the Mtunthama/Kasungu area of Malawi. This was perhaps our saddest trip and the trip characterized by our greatest accomplishments to date. The sadness is due to the fact that there is an ongoing famine due to crop failure from drought which was just beginning when we left last year. Now that drought/famine is coming to pass because last year’s corn crop was affected, and, unfortunately, it will only get worse because this year’s crop is failing too.
When we found out about the famine, we were able to raise over $6600 for the purchase of corn to be distributed in the countryside in the catchment area of our Malawi NGO partner K2 TASO. We helped distribute this corn as part of our trip, travelling a few hours to rural villages or dispensing it from the new K2 TASO headquarters near St. Andrews Hospital. This was particularly poignant because we saw severely malnourished kids in the hospital, including one who was so emaciated that he died within two days of admission despite efforts to feed him effectively. Our high school students had the extraordinary opportunity to shake the hands of those Malawian families receiving corn from BTM as a result of our fundraising efforts, which included the generosity of the kids’ parents.
As usual, our team helped out at both St. Andrews Hospital and at Kasungu District Hospital. We had a chance to work with Melodie Hicks’ latest team of incredible Vanier Nursing School students. We saw a lot of children ill with malaria, some of whom died during the night. I think there may have been more patients with malaria this year but fewer deaths. There was certainly much worse marasmus (carbohydrate malnutrition) than we are used to seeing, especially in little kids. Don Hangen operated on many people with fractures at KDH, while Brian provided internal medicine advice and gave George Talama, MD, the District Health Officer who runs KDH, the portable EKG machine donated to Bridges to Malawi by Steve Albino, an electrical engineer who live in Hudson, MA. Several of us donated blood to patients in the hospital at St. Andrews and had the pleasure of watching it be transfused into a specific patient. We also distributed a large amount of medical supplies (stethoscopes, BP cuffs, pulse oximeters, e.g.) as well as desperately needed medications (antibiotics, antifungals, steroid creams, Tylenol, ibuprofen, e.g.) and almost two thousand donated US dollars between, St. Andrews, and Kasungu District Hospital, and K2 TASO.
As usual, we also made house calls to see the K2 TASO beneficiaries (as they are called) who have HIV and or AIDS. One of the most heartening parts of our trip occurred when a woman with Kaposi’s Sarcoma (an AIDS related cancer) who was bedridden when we first met her 5 years ago, walked a few milesfrom her home just to say hello to us. The fact that she can do this is a tribute to Peter Minjale and K2 TASO as well as the Canadian NGO K2 Foundation, who have worked hard to ensure that all patients suffering with HIV in the Mtunthama area are provided with anti-retrovirus medications, food, financial, and emotional support.
We also participated in multiple rural clinics, often travelling for hours to get to isolated villages. We got thoroughly soaked by a thunderous downpour on the way back from one such clinic; the only time we felt cool during the trip. We averaged about 250 people per clinic and saw many patients with malaria, dehydration, malnutrition, back pain, and problems related to HIV/AIDS.
We painted a mural on the walls of the pediatric ward at St. Andrews (an annual event since the inauguration of the new pedi ward in the hospital 2 years ago). We also helped paint primer on the new K2 TASO headquarters
We capped our efforts with meetings that have cleared the way for us to open up a microcredit bank in the Mtunthama/K2 TASO catchment area. In addition, we found a way to upgrade Peter Minjale’s WIFI internet access so that he can now respond right away to our e-mails. More important, this new high speed internet access will make it possible for us (we hope) to set up a telemedicine program making it possible for specialists in the US to exam patients at St. Andrews and at Kasungu District Hospital using a laptop and a camera brought o the patient’s bedside by the treating Malawian clinician looking for advice not otherwise available to them.
While in Malawi, we also did our darnedest to meet with Rotarians in the Lilongwe Rotary Club to try to help expedite acceptance of the International Rotary grant we have applied for. Unfortunately, so far that grant has still not been finally accepted, and, as a consequence, our IRS operations are now 6 weeks overdue (despite our best efforts). This means that Peter Minjale and his colleagues are beginning to see people with malaria in the villages which we have, up till now, been successfully protecting from this pestilential curse. It is our profound hope that the grant will go through at once and we can start IRS immediately.
Please see pictures and videos posted on my Facebook page. Will post pictures and video on the website as soon as possible.