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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • An unyielding love powers refugees in Uganda

    by Tyler Graf | Feb 14, 2018


    Kneeling on the dirt floor of her home, Rose tucks her spindly legs under her body and talks passionately about her family and the bond of love that brought them to this refugee settlement in northern Uganda.

    Rose's smile is radiant, a full-force beam of happiness. When her husband is by her side, her smile widens. He was by her every inch of the journey through the South Sudan bush, helping her as she crawled over the harsh landscape with shoes on her hands and cuts on her knees.

    Everyone in Rose's family has a disability -- something that complicates an already complicated life. For Rose, she's been disabled since a young age when she contracted polio, leaving her without the use of her legs. She married a man with dwarfism and gave birth to two children who also have the condition. Life for the couple in South Sudan was hard.

    When Rose was young, she remembers people staring at her, treating her differently. Other children did not accept her and she had few friends. She was an outsider, whom even doctors treated coldly. She recalls going to a doctor and being told there was nothing he could do. She was on her own.

    But when she met her husband, her world changed. She felt loved. Together, they forged a partnership. When fighting erupted in South Sudan -- when hatred, violence and persecution boiled over, forcing thousands to immediately flee -- the couple turned to love. They relied on each other to remain strong.

    Together, they found the strength to travel with their children for days until they reached Uganda, where they were tired and sick. Rose was at a reception center after crossing the border when Medical Teams staff embraced her. 

    In midst of the family's struggles, Medical Teams International eased their burden by providing malaria medicine to the children and screening the parents for other diseases. Nurses noticed the family’s disabilities, Rose says, and expressed a desire to make sure they had a good life at the settlement.

    Loving care came in the form of medical assistance and home visitations. Because of the family’s limited mobility, nurses went directly to the family. They came to check on the children, to help Rose and her husband, and to provide love. 

    Rose in her new wheelchair.

    As Rose sat, recalling her story, her smile widened and she looked over at her husband, who was attending to the children as they slept on a mat, snoring loudly. He smiled back. A silent connection was at work – between Rose, her husband, and their children. They were healthy together, and that’s what mattered most. 

    After Rose initially told her story to Medical Teams over the summer, even more love came to Rose’s doorstep – this time in the form of a wheelchair. Nurses from Medical Teams International brought the wheelchair to the family’s house, where that big, warm smile again crossed Rose's face. She was thankful that finally she had mobility. No longer would she have to crawl on the ground with shoes on her hands. This simple act of love went a long way in reaffirming Rose's dignity

    At refugee settlements throughout the world, there are so many stories that show how love leads to healing. In Uganda, Medical Teams International demonstrates what it means to act, to heal, and to love. On this Valentine's Day, let's remember how love has the power to shape and transform the lives of those around us. Learn more about refugees like this family and consider making a donation today.

  • Professionalism and gentleness merge in northern Uganda refugee settlement

    by Tyler Graf | Feb 09, 2018

    Uganda, MAF partner - West Nile refugees, 2018 (1)
    Representatives from Medical Teams International and Mission Aviation Fellowship pose in front of an MAF airplane in northern Uganda. Because of MAF's flights, health professionals from Medical Teams International can efficiently cover ground to serve refugees in need. 

    By the time the Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot makes the announcement --"10 minutes to Moyo"-- the Ugandan landscape beneath the airplane has become a dense forest with barely any roads visible from above, just one or two isolated dirt tracks. As the flight nears its destination, the ground below is a vast expanse of semi-arid scrubland. 

    At the Palorinya Refugee Settlement, doctors and nurses from Medical Teams International come to serve in three- to four-week stints, training local medical staff and treating patients. Medical Teams, our local staff, and the international volunteers rely on Mission Aviation Fellowship to fly between Uganda's capital Kampala and the northern airstrips serving refugee settlements, including Moyo. 

    “The journey from Kampala to Moyo would take at least eight hours by overland travel," said Andrew Hoskins, Medical Teams' Uganda country director. "It’s just an hour and a half by aircraft.”

    Hundreds of local doctors and nurses work for Medical Teams in the northern settlements, serving primarily refugees from South Sudan.

    Medical Teams International provides health care to roughly one million South Sudanese refugees and local Ugandans in the northern reaches of the country. Every day the clinics are bustling with people patiently awaiting service, often with children in tow. While their faces show an outward disposition of weariness, the refugees speak highly of the passionate care they receive. They come for vaccinations, to deliver babies, to receive nutritional supplements, or for medicines to treat malaria. 

    Of her experience in the refugee settlement, a Mission Aviation Fellowship visitor wrote about what she saw in the clinic:

    A woman sitting on the ground with her baby was trying to breastfeed even though her tired body looked like just skin and bones. The baby had orange-colored hair, a tell-tale sign of malnourishment for an African baby. The mother had cataracts in both eyes and was barely able to see me. She relayed, with the help of a translator, that her husband was arrested and had disappeared near Kajo Keji in South Sudan. She has five children to provide for, but is unable to dig or plant because of her sight and depends on the emergency food allowance provided by UN's refugee agency. Her feverish baby was given the all-clear after having a blood test for malaria, and she was sent home with antibiotics for her little one. This woman’s situation will once again remind me never to complain. What do we know of the struggles the isolated and displaced face on a daily basis? And what would have happened to this woman and her children if Medical Teams hadn’t intervened?

    Upon seeing Medical Teams' work in the Palorinya Settlement, Mission Aviation Fellowship said it "laid bare the diverse and pressing needs ... with impressive and encouraging levels of professionalism, gentleness and best practice in these most challenging of circumstances."

    In northern Uganda, these challenges stem from the deeply vulnerable state of the South Sudanese refugees. Of the more than one million refugees and asylum-seekers in Uganda, 82 percent are women and children. They come to Uganda weak, hungry, and often sick. They've been scarred -- both physically and mentally -- by the experiences they've endured.

    Once refugees reach Uganda, there are smaller threats -- unobservable to the naked eye, but dangerous nonetheless. Threats like unclean water, or a lack of nutritious food, or unhygienic living conditions. These are serious threats, and deceptively deadly in their simplicity. The challenge for Medical Teams International and partners like Mission Aviation Fellowship is to ensure that after refugees make their treacherous journeys -- slogging long miles under threat of violence -- they don't succumb to something as preventable as malaria or cholera.

    Uganda, MAF partner - West Nile refugees, 2018 (54)
    A Medical Teams nurse checks the blood pressure of a refugee at the Palorinya Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda.

    Each day, there are thousands of success stories. But no one can do it alone in Uganda. Through the support of generous donors, Medical Teams International is committed to partnering, to seeking ways to maximize efficiency and provide loving health care to people in need. 

    To learn more about how we're serving people in settlements throughout Uganda as the United Nation's main refugee health provider, visit our Uganda refugee page. Consider making a donation today and joining a partnership that's saving lives and renewing hope in the future.

  • No filters: The emerging Congolese refugee crisis

    by Helen Manson | Jan 31, 2018

    The last few days have been equal parts swearing (under my breath) and praying. Truth is, it’s hard not to whisper a swear word to yourself when you see a one-year-old child who weighs 13.5 pounds because of malnutrition.

    It’s hard not to swear as you watch a woman give birth in a makeshift hospital tent inside a refugee camp.

    It’s hard not to swear when a woman rushes into that same medical tent to say that a one-week-old baby has been abandoned and hasn’t been fed since who knows when. As the quiet gasps escape my mouth I find myself turning to pray immediately for help from the only person that can--God.

    You see, right now there’s an invisible crisis happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo and I’ve just spent three days listening to horrendous stories and witnessing first-hand the tremendous influx of refugees coming out of there, spilling into southwest Uganda. It’s invisible because hardly anyone’s talking about it and, honestly, I get it. It certainly feels to me like some country in Africa is always at war. It’s become part of the wallpaper of our lives.

    But in the last few weeks things have escalated significantly in Congo. For most of last year between 30 and 75 people crossed the border from Congo to Uganda each day. But since Jan. 1, 2018, the numbers have increased to a whopping 500 on average per day. Thousands upon thousands of families now wait up to a week at a transit center before being transported to the nearest refugee settlement about a seven-hour drive away. 

    I often wish I could take you all with me on these trips. So this time, instead of sharing photos, I’m going to share four one-minute iPhone videos that will hopefully help bring it to life even more. No filters, no editing.

    When refugees arrive in Uganda, they wait in lines where they receive initial health screenings and are asked about their immunization status.

    Having issues viewing these videos? View on Facebook >>

    After families receive their health screenings and food ration cards, they make their way over to the health clinic. Within ten minutes of arriving in this tent on my first day, I watched as a woman gave birth on the exact bed you’ll see on this video. Silently and without any fuss. The baby's head was already out when she hoisted herself onto the table and began to push. She was frail, but with a steel resolve. The Medical Teams women attending to her were confident, calm, and professional and had the room cleaned up within minutes after her delivery. She then lay on the floor with a cardboard box folded in half for a pillow. Her baby sleeping peacefully under the one blanket she had to her name.  

    The line for the Office for the Prime Minister (people in charge of camps) and the UN's refugee agency is usually hundreds long. The sheer number of people and the smells are often overwhelming. The day before I took this video, I spotted a group of four young boys aged 6 to 12 huddled together and all alone. I inquired as to their situation and discovered they had arrived at the camp without parents. Three of them were in matching t-shirts and it took everything in me to stop the tears from falling as I looked at how scared and vulnerable they were in that moment. Who would help them get food? Who would give them a blanket to sleep under? Who would kiss them as they went to sleep that night inside those big red buildings you’ll see in this video?

    What are refugees eating? How do you serve 2,700 people on any one day? This is a video of one of the kitchens.

    Because of a renewed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, waves of new refugees are coming into Uganda seeking sanctuary. There are now nearly 250,000 Congolese refugees in Uganda. We see them everyday, their tired bodies huddled upright in line as they await health screenings or nutritional support, their children clinging tightly. Many are mothers-to-be, who need a safe place to give birth, while others are just kids who have lost their parents.

    Medical Teams International is the primary provider of health and nutrition services for all Congolese refugees. The UN has called on Medical Teams to expand our services throughout southwest Uganda, and we have eagerly accepted the challenge. Together, there is no barrier to health we can't break. Learn more about how you can support our efforts in Uganda.

  • Hope Renewed for Community Health Worker Yasmin

    by Jenny Stoecker, Humanitarian Response Program Coordinator | Jan 10, 2018

    Bangladesh, Yasmin, 2018 (2)
    Yasmin, Community Health Worker

    Unlike the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who recently crossed the border, Yasmin has spent her entire life in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

    Since the 1970s, and before the recent surge of refugees, nearly one million Rohingya fled Myanmar because of widespread persecution. Yasmin’s father was one of them.

    More than 25 years ago, to escape the violence, her father became a refugee in Nayapara, one of two government-controlled refugee camps in Bangladesh. He found work outside the camp as a farmer and fell in love with a Bengali woman. They married, built a home in the camp, and had five children.

    To better provide for his family and to pay the children’s school fees, Yasmin’s father moved to Malaysia to work as a laborer. “He wanted me to go to school and hoped that I would become a doctor,” she explained. Three years ago, when Yasmin was in 9th grade, her father died unexpectedly in Malaysia. No longer able to pay their fees, all five children were forced to drop out of school. “When he died, my hope died with him,” Yasmin said. 

    Then, in mid-November, when Medical Teams’ Community Health Worker program began in Nayapara, she jumped at the chance to join. “I want to help others with the education I do have – being a Community Health Worker allows me to do that.” 

    The Nayapara refugee camp in Bangladesh.

    Each Community Health Worker is equipped to teach members of their own community about water, sanitation, and hygiene, and to help stop disease outbreaks such as measles and diphtheria by identifying and referring patients to the nearest clinic. One of 21 health workers in Nayapara, Yasmin and her colleagues visit over 1,000 households a week. With thousands of people living in a confined space, and with limited access to proper sanitation, this program is vital to the health of the community.

    The stipend Yasmin earns as a Community Health Worker will allow her to go back to school next year. She hopes to one day become a teacher. As a Community Health Worker, she has a great start! 

    Learn more about the Rohingya refugee crisis and how you can help. You can make an impact on the lives of thousands of Rohingya refugees and help people like Yasmin bring love and lasting health to their community.

  • 18 Ways to Keep The World Healthy in 2018

    by Tyler Graf | Jan 02, 2018

    For the tired and sick, the scared and weary, those affected by conflict and poverty, the new year comes shrouded in mystery—the next 12 months are uncertain. But if we remember that hope overcomes fear, that medicine heals sickness, that knowledge empowers communities, and that faith invigorates the spirit, we know our path forward and can boldly break barriers to health in the new year. Here are the 18 ways that we will work to keep the world healthy in 2018.

    1. Vaccinations
    Since their introduction into common medicine in the early 20th Century, vaccines have saved millions of lives throughout the world. Because they prevent diseases, vaccines are both effective and cheap, cutting health care costs wherever they're used.

    The World Health Organization estimates that the measles vaccine alone has saved more than 20 million lives since 2000. Other serious diseases such as diphtheria and tuberculosis have also seen steep declines because of vaccination coverage. In today's world—where there are more refugees than ever before, millions of whom live in cramped, unhygienic conditions—vaccinations are invaluable in striking down disease outbreaks before they happen.

    Visit a refugee settlement in Northern Uganda and you may meet Denis, a Medical Teams International health worker who specializes in immunizing South Sudanese refugees. His little syringes pack a powerful punch. And in 2018, they'll continue doing their job—saving lives.

    Denis - Uganda

    2. Infant Survival Kits
    These little brown boxes may seem nondescript. But look a little closer and you'll see how important they are.

    Medical Teams International distributes Infant Survival Kits all over the world, wherever mothers need supplies to deliver their babies safely. The kits are cheap and effective, costing just $25 and ensuring that children have a safe start to life.

    Samiha - Greece

    3. Health Information Program
    Did you know that in southwest Uganda Medical Teams International has partnered with Cambia Health Solutions on a mobile app that tracks the health status of refugee patients? Developed by a joint IT team, the Health Information Program is works on Android devices and allows clinic workers to track diseases in real time, with all the information being stored in the digital cloud. No longer must health workers sift through mountains of paperwork. Using the app’s analytics, clinicians can even predict when outbreaks will happen.

    4. Syrian Refugee Outreach Volunteers
    Refugees are not helpless victims. Many were educated professionals, business owners, or students who fled violence and persecution because they had no other option. They are incredibly capable people who want nothing more than to make a difference in their new communities.

    In Lebanon, teams of trained Syrians work as Refugee Outreach Volunteers—roving health workers who make home visits to educate their neighbors, check on vulnerable people and, when necessary, refer patients to a clinic Medical Teams supports.

    Refugee Outreach Volunteers include women like Hind, a mother of two who fled Homs more than four years ago. She is dedicated to helping refugees receive health care. One of her sons is partially paralyzed from a kidney problem and needs a transplant. Hind spends her days helping older refugees who suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes.

    Hind - Lebanon

    5. Oral Rehydration Solution
    Dehydration caused by diarrheal diseases is a leading cause of death among children in developing countries. But there is a simple solution: Oral Rehydration Solution.

    This is a powerful combination of glucose, electrolytes, and sodium chloride. The solution enables a person’s intestines to efficiently absorb fluids over a more sustained period. It is the cheapest and most effective way of combating the scourge of dehydration.

    6. Emergency Nutrition
    Children in developing countries aren’t simply hungry—too many suffer from varying degrees of malnutrition, the result of not having the right types of nutritious food to eat. In the countries where Medical Teams International works, malnutrition is endemic, which is why we monitor the growth of children to make sure they’re healthy. When kids need a boost, emergency nutritional supplements are necessary.

    In Uganda, we work with the World Food Program to distribute emergency supplements to kids like Monyjok, a little boy from South Sudan. Since being on the program, he has gained weight and energy.

    Uganda, Monyjok eating, 2017
    Monyjok - Uganda

    7. Emergency Medical Services
    In the United States, we take for granted that when we call 911 an ambulance will arrive with paramedics who will provide medical care on the way to the hospital. But in Myanmar and Nepal, where Medical Teams works with Emergency Medical Services responders, this has not been the case.

    Working with local agencies in these countries, Medical Teams trains first responders on how to respond to emergencies, assess patients, and provide care on the way to hospitals.

    8. Mothers' Groups
    In developing countries, health and hygiene education is almost nonexistent, particularly in poor, rural communities. By bringing mothers together to learn about hygiene, the danger signs of certain illnesses, and what to do in the event of an emergency, you help these women gain insight into disease prevention.

    9. Psychological Treatment in Turkey
    War is traumatic—especially for children, who carry that trauma into adulthood. Psychological trauma is often called a hidden disease because the scars it leaves behind are hidden away from the untrained eye. 

    Left untreated, psychological trauma will inhibit a person's growth and long-term happiness. In Turkey, we provide psychological treatment to the survivors of the Syrian civil war.

    They’re like Aliaa, a 14-year-old Syrian girl who spent four months trying to reach Turkey with her family nearly two years ago. Once in Turkey, she became withdrawn, saddened by what she’d gone through and her life as a refugee. But after seeing a psychiatrist, he behavior improved. Now she's happy and productive.

    Aliaa - Turkey

    10. Rohingya Volunteers
    More than 620,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are now living in cramped settlements in neighboring Bangladesh. Your support allows foreign and Bangladeshi doctors and nurses to train refugees to be outreach volunteers, who go door-to-door educating their friends and neighbors on health problems. They also refer sick patients to clinics and hospitals and track illnesses as they arise.

    These outreach volunteers are instrumental in preventing disease outbreaks in the settlements.

    11. Anti-Malaria Efforts
    Malaria doesn't have to be a way of life in Uganda. Through quick detection, clinic workers working in settlements dispense life-saving medicine to sick refugees every day.

    Although malaria remains a top disease in Uganda, fast treatment effectively stops it in its tracks. 

    12. Shipping Medical Supplies
    Many hospitals around the world don’t have access to basic equipment or medicine. In Guatemala, pregnant women must bring their own supplies for delivering their babies. In Syria, bombs target health facilities, decimating the infrastructure and everything that lies inside.

    Without these shipments, children would go without their asthma medicine, amputees without wheel chairs or even crutches; there’d be no gauze, sutures, or birthing beds. Serving Asia, North America, South America, Eurasia, Africa, and the Middle East, these shipments represent your long arms, capable of stretching all over the globe to hug those in need.

    13. Building Resilient Communities in Liberia
    By partnering with community leaders in Liberia to identify health problems and solutions, we help entire communities take ownership over their health. This is incredibly important in Liberia, a country that was swept up in the Ebola epidemic just three years ago.

    14. Supporting Primary Health Care Facilities
    Imagine you had no place to go if your child contracted pneumonia, or if your mother broke her leg. How anxious and alone would you feel, how worried would you be that a treatable ailment could develop into something deadly?

    Supporting Primary Health Centers remains incredibly important. In Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere, you can help directly serve the sick by supporting health facilities.

    15. Diarrhea Management
    Diarrhea remains one of the top childhood illnesses around the world. Often caused by tainted water or food, diarrhea can kill children who do not receive treatment.

    For Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, diarrheal diseases were such a problem that Medical Teams set up the first facility dedicated to its treatment. It serves thousands of refugees who have just recently found themselves displaced by fighting in neighboring Myanmar.


    16. Mobile Dental Clinics
    For 30 years, the Mobile Dental program has served Pacific Northwest families who either lack insurance or access to dental care. By 2018, the program has grown to become the largest volunteer-powered mobile dental program in the country.

    Without Mobile Dental, children like Mia wouldn't receive adequate and affordable care. Her family struggled to find a dentist who would see the girl before they discovered the Mobile Dental program, which was serving families in her neighborhood.

    17. Disaster Kits
    When disasters strike, home or abroad, disaster kits filled with blankets and hygiene supplies are waiting. These hygiene kits provide a respite from the cold and dirt. They provide some initial comfort to people blindsided by an unexpected catastrophe. 

    18. Volunteer Medical Professionals
    Health is a team sport, especially when it comes to aiding underserved people. Volunteers embody Medical Teams' can-do spirit, providing essential health services that heal the sick, restore the weak, and empower entire communities to improve their living conditions. Taking time off from their family and jobs, volunteers travel the world, united by a shared vision: to bring health to a hurting world.

    As we welcome 2018, we thank you for your support to make the world a healthier place.