Liberia: “We Will Prevail”

The following entry was written by Charles Redding, CEO & President of MedShare. It is his second update on his travels in Liberia.

 
Another incredible day of discovery, dialogue, and dedication to finding solutions to some of the most pressing issues in Liberia. All throughout the day, one theme continued to echo during every meeting, “We will prevail.” A country ravaged by civil war and brought close to the point of no return by the Ebola Virus, refused to give up and exhibited an extraordinary zeal to find ways to improve.

liberia_update2_1Our day started with a visit to Vice President H.E. Joseph N. Boakai’s office. What a gracious host and thoughtful leader. He took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us to understand each of our goals and what was needed to be successful. This gave me the opportunity to discuss MedShare’s mission, to detail the support given to Liberia during the Ebola Outbreak, and to communicate our desire to partner with MAP and the MOH to help Liberia strengthen its health system. He was aware and very appreciative of our support during the Ebola Crisis and reaffirmed that it would indeed take a great deal of effort and intervention to improve access to quality healthcare. Although we did not have time to go into great detail, the vice president listened intently to all of our objectives and lauded our efforts to help his country.

Our next stop was a lunch meeting with the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Axelliberia_update2_2 M. Addy. Beyond the flavor of the food, the discussion was rich with opportunities for many who had traveled to Liberia from Georgia to explore business partnerships. Liberia, a country rich in rubber, cocoa, and oil palm, is looking for strategic investors to increase production of certified products. Fishing and other agricultural opportunities were also explored. It was clear that for Liberia to be able to rebuild and prevail, it must generate employment opportunities for its people. The unemployment rate in Liberia is a whopping 80%. The Savannah Port is a strategic partner with the National Port Authority in Liberia. Thousands of containers are shipped from Georgia to Liberia each year carrying everything from chicken parts to medical supplies and equipment from MedShare. It was noted that the majority of these containers are sent back to Savannah empty. What a golden opportunity to increase outputs in Liberia and haul items back to Georgia.

liberia_update2_3We then headed to a roundtable discussion with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection. Participants in this discussion included members of CDC Liberia, the Carter Center, Savannah State University, A.M.E. University, MAP International, MedShare, and the Liberian Consulate for Georgia. Unfortunately, the Minister of Health was not able to attend. Topics ranging from strengthening the healthcare system to improving social welfare were discussed. Again, both MedShare and MAP were lauded for our efforts during the Ebola Outbreak. What I was most proud of was that Masmina Sirleaf from the HEARTT Foundation openly complimented MedShare’s work during the Ebola Outbreak. She stated that she worked with Jason and Amanda on a container shipment and really appreciated that they were allowed to select the items that they needed. Needless to say I was beaming with joy and satisfaction. Our model works!

Our hectic pace did not subside. After our lunch meeting we hurried to the U.S. Embassy to meet with Ambassador Christine Elder. Upon entering the embassy it felt like we had returned home. Ambassador Elder was very gracious with her time and listened as each of us communicated the purpose and objective of our visit. She thanked MedShare for the support we provided during the Ebola Outbreak and reiterated the need for training on equipment usage and repairs. She committed her support for our efforts to help strengthen Liberia’s healthcare system. Her aide also indicated that she would like to partner with MedShare and MAP to support a local Free Clinic that provides healthcare to people in Monrovia who cannot afford to pay. Of course we are all over this!

Our day could not have ended on a grander note. The vice president hosted us at a VIP Welcome Reception, complete with food, music, drummers, and African Dancers. What an liberia_update2_4incredible evening! I was very moved by many things this evening but the Ebola Recovery Song –We Will Prevail, sung to the tune of We Will Survive– as well as receiving a stole with “Liberia is Ebola Free” inscribed on it, and a Liberian pin, topped the list.

As I complete this blog, exhausted from an extremely hectic day, I am confident that Liberia will indeed prevail. But it needs help from organizations like MedShare, MAP, educational institutions, business leaders, and others. It is the little engine that can. I am so proud that MedShare played such a pivotal role in the nation’s efforts to combat the Ebola Virus and will continue to work with them to ensure the long-term sustainability of a robust healthcare system. This is why we do what we do!

-Charles Redding

 

Liberia Needs Us

The following entry was written by Charles Redding, CEO & President of MedShare.

Never before has the need for organizations like MedShare and MAP been so evident than liberia_1what I witnessed today. I am currently in Liberia along with Steve Stirling, President & CEO of MAP International, and others to interact with Government Officials, the Business Community, the Private Sector and University Presidents to discuss ways we can collaborate to strengthen healthcare and social protection in Liberia with a focus on the role of NGOs and Universities. Our host for this incredible trip is H.E. Joseph N. Boakai, Sr., Vice President of the Republic of Liberia. Liberia is a focus country for MedShare, so this trip is especially important and strategic for me.

Before I say more about what I experienced today it is best to start with some important events in Liberia’s recent history. Liberia’s population is approximately 3 million with its capital located in Monrovia where about 20% of the population resides. In 1989 civil war erupted, ending seven years later with the Abuja Peace Accords. In 1999 the government of Charles Taylor was accused of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone, and it fought a border war with Guinea in 2000. Taylor was forced into exile in 2003, and the new government, under the leadership of Africa’s first elected female president in 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, vowed to rebuild the nation. The rebuilding process was well underway until the Ebola Crisis peaked in 2014. Liberia’s health system was ill-equipped to handle such a devastating outbreak and countless lives were lost. In June 2016, the WHO declared the end of Ebola virus transmission in the Republic of Guinea and in Liberia.

Now back to what I witnessed today that confirmed the need for critical medical supplies, equipment, medicines and training to rebuild capacity in order to address a number of recurring health issues. After a brief stay in Monrovia where we received an auspicious liberia_2welcome and a brief day of rest after a long journey, both Steve and I along with his wife, Sook Hee, and members of the MAP local office departed Monrovia for Nimbo and Bong Counties bordering Guinea. It took us about 3.5 hours to reach our first destination, which was the Ganta Rehabilitation Center where patients were recovering from Leprosy, Buruli Ulcers and Tuberculosis. All highly infectious diseases, but easily treatable with the proper supplies, medicines and treatment. One-by-one these patients recovering from these debilitating diseases greeted us with smiles, curiosity and songs of hope as we watched healthcare workers struggle to treat them with very limited supplies and openly pleaded with us to send more supplies and medicines. They thanked both MedShare and MAP for the supplies and medicines we had donated to the center, but were very passionate about their need for more. They also cited the lack of training and often depended on visiting doctors to train them. The Nuns that were attending to the patients had been sent there from Tanzania. The center housed about 150 patients and many waited in line to receive their daily changes of bandages and dressings that were in limited supply. It was extremely difficult for me to view these cases, for they were like nothing I had ever witnessed before. I quickly turned my thoughts to what can be done to improve this situation and countless others like this that exist. We have the supplies and MAP can get the medicines. We just need to get it in the hands of those who can make a difference!

Our next stop was to Phebe Hospital where we met with Dr. G. Gorbee Logan, the Bong County Health Officer. MedShare last sent a container to this hospital in 2004 and they received some of the supplies from our Ebola shipments. Dr. Logan’s plea was not for the hospital, but for a former leprosy colony that had been ostracized from society. The residents had been cured of the disease but not accepted back into society. They continued to live in the colony isolated from others with little to no help in dealing with health, education and recovering back to the person they were before the disease. One could not help but be moved by the passionate plea of the doctor. We quickly departed Phebe Hospital and headed for the colony to meet the people of this community and share words of hope. What we saw cannot be fully explained in words. On the surface, the community seemed like any other community – kids playing, mothers cooking and washing clothes, men collecting wood, etc. Except that many were not able to get around or move at all due to complications from the disease. Generations of children had been born in this former leprosy colony, because their parents and grandparents were not accepted. All too often we think that treatment stops once the disease is cured, and do not consider what is needed for patients to fully recover. Although neither Steve nor I had anything to send beyond, perhaps, some mobility units, we both committed to share this with other NGOs that had social welfare programs needed for this community. Simple skills training, farming, water and other social welfare programs would help immensely. With all of this suffering and isolation, the kids crowded us to share smiles and pose for pictures. They did not seem to have a care in the world. This gave me hope…

Our trip was completed and we started our 3.5 hour journey back to Monrovia. I was left with many thoughts as to why things were this way and what could we do to really make a difference. My heart is heavy but I am encouraged that we can indeed help to change the circumstances for many of the people we encountered today. They deserve better! The songs we heard while patients waited forliberia_3 their bandages to be changed and the smiles from children oblivious to their circumstances energized me to do more and confirmed that Liberia will truly recover one day. It will take government, private and public sectors working together for the good of the global community. I can hardly wait for our meeting with the Minister of Health later this week.

 

-Charles Redding

 

Healing One Patient at a Time in Guatemala

The following entry was written by Viktoria Valikova, medical doctor, founder of Health & Help, and returning MedTeam leader.

l35a1955-edit-livejournalWe started our project in Guatemala about a year ago. The choice of country was not a coincidence – my first mission was with a Belgian NGO when I came to Guatemala and left my heart here.

We started to build a clinic in a small place called Chuinajtajuyub. It is a mountain village with a primarily indigenous Mayan population. The villagers, especially women and kids, don’t speak Spanish, our local language here is Kiche. For a population of more than 15,000, which includes ours and nearby villages, there is no health center, hospital or any other medical facility.

We are building our clinic with the help of the community; every day five local men come to the construction site as volunteers.

To prepare the local population for the idea that they will have permanent medical care, we opened a health post in the same school where we currently live. Our doctors and nurses are all volunteers who came with the same belief – to make this world a better place. They work without compensation, without any financial support, bringing bags full of donated medication and equipment from their home countries to keep us afloat.

I am a very lucky person. I had a very happy childhood; my parents were always with me, I always had food to eat, a warm bed, clean clothes to wear and all the opportunities in the world. I went to a great tuition-free school. I didn’t pay for my University. I had the best affordable health insurance. Right after my residence I got a nice job in the ER at a large hospital. I am a very lucky person.

On my first mission to Guatemala, I met the local people. Beautiful, smart, active, full of smiles. Some of them don’t eat food regularly. Most of them don’t have money to pay a doctor. But all of them deserve to be treated like humans.

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Me, our people, you, – we were way more fortunate in this life than millions of people living in poverty. I strongly believe that it’s a great thing –  to share. We can donate some time, donate some money, donate some of our kindness to make these people’s lives happier.

We are fighting for medical care for people that never in their lives have seen a doctor. We treat malnourished kids, we monitor pregnant women, we attend to emergencies and we run programs for chronic patients. We work 24/7 and we believe that we make a difference. And we want to thank MedShare for making this world better with us.

When we came to the MedShare office together with Karina Basharova, our project manager, all the personnel treated us like family. We were getting medical supplies that will save lives for thousands of people and everyone in the room understand it. It is not just syringes or bandages; for us, it is healing one sick kid and providing prenatal care for one expectant mother at a time.

– Viktoria Valikova

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Viktoria stocks the clinic with MedShare supplies that will save lives in Guatemala.

 

 

Emily Rymland Bringing Hope in Duffle Bags

The following entry was written by Emily Rymland, Nurse Practitioner at the East Bay AIDS Center in Oakland, California and Medical Director for Em’s Clinic in Uganda.

Each day, I work as a nurse practitioner at The East Bay AIDS Center in Oakland. That is my day job. My other, most amazing job, is as the medical Director for Em’s Clinic in Kiryabicooli, Uganda. In January, 2014, I was invited at the last minute to help a team of nurses and a pharmacist who were going to the bush in Uganda to have a medical camp for a week.

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After serving 1700 people who would otherwise receive no care at all, it really hit my heart. As I was flying home, back to my normal, abundant life, it became apparent that one week was not enough. It was in that moment that I decided to raise the funds necessary to build a clinic in Kyribicooli that is staffed by Uganda health care providers. It is open every day and affordable.

I had no idea what I was doing! “Learning as you go” was an understatement.

Somehow, after talking and talking, I was able to raise the funds through private donors, to build a building and hire a staff. But wait… what about the stuff?! What about the supplies to fill the shelves? As a private person raising money from private donors I needed to learn resources that would allow me to give the healthcare providers the supplies that they need to do their jobs! A nurse friend of mine told me about Medshare…a place that would allow me to get much-needed supplies for very little money. Amazing!

The first time I visited Medshare, I was amazed. I was thrilled as I walked through the warehouse, seeing all of the supplies that would allow me to open the doors. In addition to getting the supplies, the staff helped me to determine what I needed and what made the most sense to bring.

Each time I fly, I am allowed to carry two 50 lb. bags on the airline for free. Each January, I take a team of about 12 medical providers to help with care at the clinic and further out in the bush. The supplies include instruments, bandages, sutures, oh, so many supplies! Our shelves are stocked.

This would not have happened in such a timely affordable manner without MedShare. It’s because of MedShare that we are able to provide the care to our patients for such an affordable rate. We serve a population that is considered one of the poorest in the world. Our goal is to provide primary care, infectious disease care and prevention, health education and that which is most dear to my heart, HIV testing and linkage to care. Additionally, we are building a new HIV prevention program.

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The people of Kirybicooli are the most appreciative, kind and loving people that I have had the luck to work with and for. Our staff live next to our clinic so that care is available at any time of the day. These young health workers are 100% committed to serving their community. They have chosen to live a very isolated life in order to serve. So, it is so amazing when I bring the duffle bags to them. It’s like Christmas! They go through every single object and decide where it’s going live. Thanks to you, Medshare, our shelves are stocked and our patients are cared for.

-Emily Rymland

Robin Chalmers Finds Friends at MedShare

The following entry was written by Robin Chalmers, regular volunteer at MedShare’s Southeast Distribution & Volunteer Center

Sure, you give a few hours, but what do you get by volunteering at MedShare?

Six years ago when my youngest daughter was heading off to UGA to start college I decided that, as a research consultant who worked from home, I needed to build some added structure into my schedule. I had dabbled in volunteer gigs here and there, but I never felt that I had time to spare. I decided that I should spend it on something constructive instead of wasting it.

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So I headed to MedShare in South DeKalb County –I had been there a few times during the Haiti earthquake– and I started a routine of regular Wednesday night sort sessions. Although many volunteers come with a group, I had a job with quite a bit of travel, so I decided to venture by myself. I have never looked back. When you show up solo, it leaves fewer excuses to back out (my friend isn’t going so I won’t go, I can’t organize a buddy to go with me…). Let me tell you, if you show up at MedShare a handful of times by yourself you will find that you’ve made a few friends there before you know it.

For starters, our Volunteer Program Manager, Alvaro McRae, is one of the most open and welcoming people that I know. He’s the steady hand. I’ve seen him with a group of 4 volunteers and with a group of 80, always keeping his cool, patiently answering questions and keeping folks on task without them feeling rushed or pressured. You can quickly count him as a friend. Then, there is Dr. Moctar Bayor, who enlivens the room with a bark that is worse than his bite! All the while smiling and helping volunteers get it right. He’s also your friend before you know it.

But if you return to volunteer a few more times, you’ll make your own MedShare buddies. The sessions can be social or intense, but by the end of 3 hours the group has achieved something that is tangible and will help someone who is facing a health problem in an underserved area.

 

MedShare volunteers range widely in age (10 to 90 or so), neighborhood, race, ethnicity, and reasons for service. It is very easy in a large city like Atlanta to interact only with people like yourself. For me that would be oldish, “inside the perimeter” dwellers who also have empty nests. Without MedShare, I would rarely cross paths with the many new immigrants who come to volunteer, members of small and large churches, members of Beta Clubs in high school, Boy Scouts, expat clubs from Nigeria, college students, the list goes on and on. I admire and appreciate the effort every one has made and hope to see them there the next time.

-Robin Chalmers

Notes from the Field: Annual Impact Trip

MedShare Reunion Celebrates the Little Hospital that Could 

The following entry was written by Spring Asher, a MedShare Southeast Council member, a six-time Emmy Award winning TV producer and founder of Speechworks. 

This year, 2016 is a special Medshare reunion for Hospitalito Atilan in Santiago Atilan in Guatemala. Ten years ago, 2006, Medshare then Board Chair Pat Robinson, Bonnie O’Neill, Diana Blank and then CEO A.B. Short visited the hospital on Medshare’s first mission trip.

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The hospital dates back to 1964 when it was constructed after a measles epidemic
killed over 600 Mayan children. Over the years, the area had been plagued by civil war violence and finally the the natural disastrous mudslide that destroyed the hospital.
At the time of their visit, the hospital was located in a six-bed hiker’s shack with a makeshift operating room.

The Medshare team was determined to help in the goal of a hospital serving the 75,000
Maya living in the area. The result is a joy to behold. The facility provides preventative clinical health services with emphasis on women and children and the only emergency and surgical care in the area.

Spring Asher 

Notes from the Field: Annual Impact Trip

Hospitalito Atitlan, Guatemala 

The following entry is from Richard Higgins, a retired college professor and administrator; he is also co-founder of Mundito Foundation.

The 30-year Guatemalan Civil War was over. In Santiago on Lake Atitlan, a team of local residents, including some expatriates, decided to revive the local health clinic. The clinic had been abandoned during the war after the army built a base next door, and the Mayans (the army’s main targets) no longer dared come to the clinic. After several years of hard work, Hospitalito Atitlan was open for business, and patients flocked in.

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Tragically, six months later the hospital was inundated by a mud slide following a landmark hurricane. Several hundred homes were destroyed and more than 200 lives were lost in the village.

What to do next? Rebuild. This is a resilient community. The expatriates and Guatemalan residents campaigned for private money from friends and foundations. A gifted architect designed an eco-friendly building that generates its own (solar) electricity and uses natural convection for cooling.

Five years later, the new Hospitalito Atitlan was again open for business, and patients come in large numbers from an increasingly wide area around and above the lake. In this volcanic area, living and transport take place on steep slopes, so a local health clinic is a huge asset.

One year after the 2010 opening of the new facility, our donors at the Mundito Foundation raised $25,000 for ‪MedShare‬ to pay for shipping and logistics for a container of medical supplies to Hospitalito Atitlan. I was delighted to visit five years after the Mundito-funded container shipped. Hospitalito Atitlan is a fine facility, with clean well-equipped examining rooms. Dozens of patients and families wait their turn patiently in the halls.

The local staff is professional, competent, and caring. A team of doctors from University of Pennsylvania was visiting for several weeks. I now understand the phrase “medical mission.” Doctors sacrifice their time and income to fly in with crates of medical supplies at their own expense. They perform procedures on patients and collaborate with local doctors to enhance local expertise. Now that is a mission.

Ten years ago when my wife and I last visited Guatemala, the Mayans living in the highlands did not seem well integrated into the mainstream. This time I found Mayans increasingly in positions of responsibility.

Here is an example from Hospitalito Atitlan:
Visiting the analysis lab (sparkling clean with modern equipment), we waved at the director, who was busy with a procedure. He began working there as a security guard. One busy day, a lab technician asked him if he could help them read and record simple test strips – pregnancy, diabetes, etc. He did it so well that later they asked him to help look into the microscope at stool samples and identify ones with amoebic infections. He did it well. Several promotions later, he is director of the analysis lab.

Guatemala deserves our concern and financial assistance:
The (non-government organization) NGOs and private donations help circumvent issues of government inefficiency and corruption. The local communities have the will and energy to do good things with our help.

Guatemala Richard Higgins

A site visit is an excellent way to evaluate how an NGO like MedShare makes good use of our contributions. I observed MedShare’s strong on-the-ground partners, who help speed containers of medical supplies through customs and bureaucracy.

As a result, partners in the local medical facilities can help the sick with first class supplies and equipment. Doctors were overjoyed to receive an ultrasound machine, a diagnostic treasure in Guatemala. Little things also count. A doctor said it well: “A suture for stitching a wound costs a few dollars in the USA. For us, it can mean that a life will be saved.”

Richard Higgins