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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Assatu: Effects of Ebola Linger in Liberia

    by Sarah Austria | Dec 01, 2016

    Early in the days of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, there was little education on how to stop the spread of the disease. So when 17-year-old Assatu’s mother and 6-year-old sister became sick with Ebola, naturally she cared for them at home. Misinformation circulated that hospitals made people sick with Ebola even worse and that care at home was better. Many people didn’t know that without proper protection, Ebola is easily transmitted by contact with a sick person. The consequences were catastrophic.

    Little Shally was a baby when she was infected with Ebola. Thankfully, she and her mother survived - but they both still struggle with painful aftereffects. 

    Assatu’s mother was eventually taken to a local Ebola Care Unit where, tragically, she died. Her young sister died on the way to the Ebola Care Unit. This loss - both mother and sister - is unimaginable. But her family’s struggles were not over. A mother herself to two young children, ages 3 and 1, Assatu was about to fight for her own life.

    Soon, Assatu and her baby daughter, Shally, became infected with Ebola. Assatu was taken to an Ebola Care Unit in the capital of Monrovia, where she spent two months fighting the disease. Then she was transferred to a unit closer to home, where she was gratefully reunited with her daughter, who was still in her own fight with Ebola.

    Miraculously, both Assatu and her daughter survived. But like many other survivors of Ebola, they both continue to have significant lasting effects of the disease. Physical ailments can continue in patients who manage to survive the initial disease. Assatu is in constant pain. Her joints hurt and walking is painful. Young Shally gets sick easily, and becomes anemic.

    Two years after the beginning of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, continued vigilance against the disease is critical.

    Because of your support, Medical Teams International has been working hard in Liberia for over a decade, strengthening health systems throughout the country. Community education is largely recognized as the most effective way to prevent future outbreaks of the disease. Ebola cases occur periodically but education and prevention stop individual cases from once again becoming a disaster.

    Assatu works hard to care for herself and her daughter after Ebola. Thank you for being part of her community to bring better health to everyone.

    With her mother’s death, there is no one to care for Assatu and her children. Her support system has been destroyed. Prior to the Ebola epidemic, Assatu enjoyed going to school - she was a good student. She would like to be in school again but has no way to afford her school fees. Her life has forever been changed by Ebola.

    This is the story of just one family’s experience with the epidemic. It touched every element of their lives, and their entire future. Immense numbers of families in Liberia faced similar tragedies - and it will forever change their lives.  

  • Cambia and Medical Teams International: Updates from the field

    by Emily Crowe | Nov 21, 2016

    This post is from Cambia Health Solution's blog, The Pulse. We're proud that Cambia has been our partner for years, providing invaluable support for our dental program and working over the past year to develop a better system for our Uganda clinics that will provide better healthcare for the massive influx of refugees entering the country-- potentially impacting many lives.

    Check out these notes from Cathi Row, one of their employees who volunteered on the ground, working with our teams to refine and implement the project:

    Day 4

    Today we were able to start using tablets to input patient data in one of the clinics. The clinicians were excited by the new technology and caught on very quickly. I had the opportunity to watch the clinicians work with patients in the outpatient department, which was a remarkable experience.

    In the clinics there is very little privacy, and there is a high volume of patients. In a period of three hours, two clinicians met with nearly 80 patients. Patients can be either national, meaning Ugandans, or refugees, and healthcare is provided at no cost to the patient. It’s not uncommon to see a mother seeking care for not only herself, but for that of her small child or infant.


    Day 6

    Today we traveled to a clinic to learn how the data clerk compiles the data to prepare the monthly report for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

    Watching the process, it took me back to a time years ago when I felt more comfortable with paper processes than electronic processes. The data clerk uses paper tallies from a variety of departments to create a very complex excel spreadsheet.

    As we move from department to department to gather data, I am given a clear message of why I am here. In maternity, we hear the cry of newborn literally coming from the room next door. A few minutes later I’m introduced to the mother and her beautiful baby.


    Day 8

    Today we traveled to one of the clinics to monitor and support clinicians as they used tablets for the first full day of data collection using tablets. After two days of training and testing, the clinicians love using the technology. While we found a few minor issues, things are working well.

    Over the next few months we will be validating the accuracy of the data. I also worked with a data clerk on completing a weekly report. Again, much like on Saturday, we went to multiple departments to gather and hand tally data to produce a weekly report. Good news! Next week some of this process will be easier for the data clerk to gather because of the work we have done here.

    Day 9

    Today was spent attending meetings in the settlement. In Uganda, one of the major accomplishments of the work day includes getting everyone to where they need to go. The process seems much like musical chairs at times. Nine or 10 people traveling to multiple locations in two cars.

    One thing you can expect is for plans to change. Today one change included a demonstration that closed a road we needed to travel. Another included an impromptu meeting which lasted longer than expected.

    You also can expect to have an opportunity to ride with different people. An important thing to remember – if you know where you are going, you’ll get there, just maybe not in the way you had originally expected.


  • Samaher: Mother, Diabetic, Refugee

    by User Not Found | Nov 18, 2016

    There are 57,000 “persons of concern” in Greece - many are refugees fleeing conflict. Here is the story of one.

    Meet Samaher. She is a 30 year old single mother from Syria. She is Muslim, has an 11 year old son, and lives at the refugee settlement with her family. She is also an insulin diabetic. Our teams have come to know her well, as she comes in every day to get new ice packs for her insulin.

    Medical volunteer Ashley acted quickly to help save Samaher's life.

    One morning, Samaher’s nephew ran to the Medical Teams staff. Something was wrong - Samaher was in her tent and not responding. When our medical volunteer, Ashley, arrived she found Samaher in a dangerous diabetic state - “unresponsive, drooling and with a blood sugar of 21.” Normal blood sugar is higher than 80. This can be fatal without treatment. Ashley and her team had to act fast. The stakes were especially high. If something happened, it wasn’t just her life at stake - her child would be left orphaned, as well.

    One team member rushed back to the clinic to call an ambulance and collect IV supplies. With the help of neighbors, the team loaded Samaher onto a blanket stretcher and carried her to the clinic. By the time they arrived, she was starting to seize. Acting quickly, Ashley showed Samaher’s brave nephew how to keep her airway open by lifting her chin, and she started an IV. Teamwork was needed to make sure Samaher stayed alive.

    Ashley rode in the back of the ambulance, keeping Samaher safe as she was still confused and combative from low blood sugars and kept trying to pull out the IV.

    As soon as she arrived at the hospital, they started Samaher on large doses of dextrose. Thankfully, she slowly started recovering. The next morning, they brought her back the clinic to teach her some critical ways to keep her diabetes in check -- the team emphasized the importance of always eating before taking insulin and that coffee with milk and sugar did not constitute a meal. These simple tricks could help save her life, especially in the challenging camp conditions where insulin can be hard to come by.

    Life in Syrian refugee settlements can be hard and many struggle like Samaher. We are blessed to work with incredible volunteers who are working hard to provide primary care to mothers, refugees and families in need around the world.

    Because of your support, our volunteers can help educate, treat and save the lives of people like Samaher.

  • In Haiti, fears of cholera persist

    by Tyler Graf | Nov 10, 2016

    Haiti, Cazeau Mobile Medical Unit, Nov. 2016
    Medical Teams International staff conduct cholera prevention activities in southern Haiti.

    A month after Hurricane Matthew devastated communities in Haiti, cholera made a suspected appearance along the southern coast.

    In response to this information, national and international staff from Medical Teams International traveled to the affected area and conducted a situation assessment at the houses of each of the suspected cases.

    Medical Teams decided to conduct a Mobile Medical Unit in the area of Cazeau, a small community that had seen an uptick in cholera cases. Out of a small church, staff and volunteer medical professionals set up handwashing stations and conducted educational sessions on prevention and preparedness.

    Because contaminated water leads to the spread of cholera, Medical Teams’ national nursing staff also distributed chlorine powder and oral rehydration solution. These activities were well received by members of the community, who were thankful for the support they were receiving.

    Efforts to quell fears are gaining steady traction.

    A month after Hurricane Matthew pummeled Haiti's southern coast, fears over cholera remain high. On Tuesday, the country launched its largest ever vaccination campaign. The hope is to vaccinate 800,000 people in areas hit hardest by the storm.


  • Disaster planning receives a royal visitor

    by Tyler Graf | Nov 03, 2016

    Prince Harry
    Prince Harry meets with members of Medical Teams International at Triplex, the preeminent disaster response gathering.

    Though the humanitarian response was just a simulation for humanitarian aid workers from around the globe, one royal VIP was very real.

    Prince Harry swung through the preeminent humanitarian response exercise in the world late last month, even spending a few minutes with representatives of Medical Teams International for a short confab.

    It happened at Triplex, the Norway-based simulation of the first 72 hours of a large-scale, sudden-onset disaster. Medical Teams International took part in the five-day exercise from Sept. 24-30, alongside aid organizations from around the world. 

    Prince Harry made his surprise visit by helicopter, dropping in on the action to learn more about the coordination efforts and to mingle with aid workers.

    Prince Harry’s presence added an extra dash of reality to the largest coordinated humanitarian activity outside an actual, real-world crisis. The simulation, with its royal visitor, ended just days before a real-life storm began threatening the Caribbean.

    Involving 500 people from 76 countries, Triplex places aid workers in the midst of a simulated humanitarian response. They set up camp, coordinate with the United Nations and even assess and “treat” actors playing disaster victims.

    Medical Teams International sent six representatives – including two medical volunteers – to Norway to take part in the exercise, paid for by the European Union.

    Roger Sandberg, director of Medical Teams’ Humanitarian Response Team, said it was important to test emergency preparedness, coordination and assessment in the field and at HQ. “It’s a big commitment for everyone involved,” Sandberg said of the simulation, which is held every three years.

    The simulation further improves Medical Teams’ ability to mobilize a response in the event of a crisis, Sandberg said. Medical Teams recently dispatched volunteer doctors and nurses to operate mobile medical units in communities leveled by Hurricane Matthew. This team is seeing dozens of patients a day, some of whom suffer from bodily trauma while others are at risk of contracting serious illnesses.

    The disaster simulated during Triplex was a hurricane sweeping through an imaginary country called “Sorland” already suffering from high flooding.

    The next Triplex won’t be held until 2019, with two years of planning taking place before it commences. Medical Teams plans to take part in the next Triplex to continue improving our ability to respond to disasters and help people in need.