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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Massa: Empowering Others

    by User Not Found | Nov 01, 2016

    Imagine being nine months pregnant and a five hour walk from the closest clinic. Unable to afford other transportation, motorcycle drivers won’t take you because you’re too far along in your pregnancy - it’s too risky. On your arduous walk to the clinic, you give birth on the side of the road. Infant and maternal mortality chances greatly increase. This is what childbirth is like for too many women in Massa’s community in Liberia.


    Liberia’s long civil war destroyed the country’s healthcare system, leaving it damaged and heavily dependent on outside funding. With a population of over 4 million, less than 200 doctors and nurses were left to serve. Access is very limited - it’s no wonder pregnant women from remote villages have to travel so far to give birth in a clinic.

    Medical Teams has been establishing programs in Liberia that build up and empower healthcare systems so that they can develop greater capacity and become more capable of providing quality care- with the goal of saving many more lives.

    This is how we met Massa. Pregnant and mother of two, she had walked five hours to the clinic to receive an antenatal check up. Massa is on a Quality Improvement Team, one that Medical Teams has organized with the communities and clinic staff, that engages the community in addressing the health related problems of the community. She joined the team because she wants to help the community develop and thrive.  

    She has previously given birth in the clinic and plans on doing the same for her next child, even though it means she will have to walk five hours into town during her final weeks of pregnancy and stay with friends until her labor begins. She has also been encouraging other community members to get involved and address the issues of unsafe pregnancies that exist.

    Massa has a vision of safer and better solutions for women like herself. With the distance from her village to the clinic, she would like to see a bigger clinic and a place for mothers to stay after they deliver their babies. Women like Massa are changing health in Liberia. Massa is a very impressive young lady with vision, resolve and energy. We’re proud to come alongside her and help bring better health to families around the world.

  • Cambia Returns to Uganda with Medical Teams International

    by Emily Crowe | Oct 28, 2016

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

    Cambia’s journey to Uganda began this time last year, when seven employees traveled with Medical Teams International to visit its Ugandan refugee health clinics and help create a technology solution to record patient medical data.

    Through interviewing, observing and listening to the clinicians’ needs, the team was able to develop a solution that would allow clinics to go from recording data with pen and paper, to using a prototype Android app accessed via a touch-screen tablet.

    This year, Cambia and Medical Teams are back in Uganda to refine the app and roll out implementation. Cambia employees Ivan Lebed and Cathi Row are traveling with the team as skilled volunteers to focus on user experience, adaptability and change management. They’ll also help train the Ugandan tech-support and clinic staff to use and manage the application.

    Employees Cathi Row (left), Ivan Lebed (right)

    Cathi and Ivan will be sharing their experiences and updates throughout the trip. Below, Ivan shares his experiences from the team’s first three days (Oct. 24–26, 2016) in Uganda:

    Day 1: October 24, 2016


    Today, we met with Dr. Robert and other Medical Teams staff in the Mbarara office. We also went to the Rubondo, Shungyazi, and Nachevale clinics.

    Rubondo is a small facility. They were doing the nutrition day, so there were a lot of people at the site. Since the nutrition department was so busy, a staff person from another department was helping out by performing the nutritional education with a loudspeaker while people wait. Educator and entertainer.

    We also hung out with a clinician named Prim for a bit, as he was helping a patient. The patient was a small baby in the hands of her mother. As he continued, the suspected diagnosis was malaria, and the patient was referred to the lab to confirm through test.

    We then got in the car and went to Nachevale, where we briefly met with Dr. Kapuku. Since Nachevale is very busy usually, we didn't want to hold him up too long, so we went to Shungyazi next.

    In Shungyazi, we met with Dixon, a clinician, who took the time out of his schedule to meet with us and show us around, while people stayed waiting in line. We had more questions for Dixon since Shungyazi facility was bigger and the processes were slightly different from Rubondo.

    Day 2: October 25, 2016

    We began the day meeting at the MTI office in Mbarara and had a long discussion about requirements of the project overall, and issues around offline date availability. Our concerns were addressed and worries were relieved.

    After that, we spent the day preparing training materials and making last adjustments. We put together the tablet kits, containing equipment to store, charge and care for the tablets. The actual tablets were still being held by the customs department at the airport, with no update in when they were going to be released.

    Meanwhile, other team members came back from their shopping trip with hotspot devices. They were initially given a 3-hour estimate to complete the trip, but they got done in 2 hours and rightfully deserved the applause they received.

    We had lunch of local food cooked here at the office. Matooke, beans, rice, greens, porridge, beef meat with stomach.

    Later, some of the team went to Shungyazi clinic to set up the hot spots and tablet kits.


    Day 3: October 26, 2016

    Today, we held training at Shungyazi and Rubondo with the two test tablets. The tablets are still being held in customs at the airport, even though we’ve made the payment they required and confirmed they received it. Hopefully we’ll get them tomorrow. Still, the training went well, and staff were excited.

    We met with Amos, a refugee settlement commandant at Rubondo OPM. We showed him the app, he was pleased, and pledged his support. He also wanted to go out to the field to see tablets in action, which we were surprised to hear, and asked to schedule a visit for him when we have the tablets at a later time.

    The Nakivale OPM office was busy that day, so we will schedule another visit later.

    The Rubondo training went even better. The staff were curious and diligent. Even the custodian was present for the training. We then also trained Lidia, the data clerk, on using the reports. The hotspot connection was available behind the diesel power generator (which was running during the day, since there isn't a power line to Rubondo—it’s very loud), so we were able to get the report from today on my phone and show the visits that the staff entered during the training and short live trial. Julius performed the training with Lidia, as he is the primary support on the ground in Uganda. He has very good people skills.

    The ride back was bumpy and cozy, since there were 7 of us in the truck.


    Check back for more updates from Cathi and Ivan throughout their trip. You can also follow along on social media using the #techpossible hashtag.

  • Haiti: Building, rebuilding.

    by Emily Crowe | Oct 26, 2016

    This story comes directly from notes shared by Carmen, who just returned from serving victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. Our teams are on the ground serving those in need. 

    Twice before storms toppled the small church in St. Jean. Twice before, its neighbor and caregiver helped to rebuild it.

    Now 84, the Haitian woman who looks after the tiny place of worship, Janet, is vowing to rebuild again.

    God told her to build up the church so the poor would have a place to pray, she said.

    It is this type of unflagging resilience that melds a community together after a disaster. St. Jean is like many villages that dot Haiti’s southern coast, places where rebuilding efforts now begin in earnest despite the threat of cholera.

    Haiti needs help in the long term, they said. While people require housing and medicine now, they need a sustainable health system for the future, too.

    The 84-year-old woman’s own house was also partially destroyed. Little is left of her kitchen. And her garden, where she grew her food, is mostly gone. She now worries about growing hungry.

    Her fear of the unknown is echoed elsewhere in St. Jean. But that fear is undercut by a sense of purpose.


    Trees are toppled, powerlines are down and roofs are completely sheered from housetops. With the rain continuing to fall, many people are left without sufficient shelter. The small school in St. Jean had its roof blown off, leading officials to temporarily postpone classes.

    Outside a demolished home, a group gathered to start rebuilding. They said they lost everything: They have no beds and no water. They’d heard about a distribution happening in the area but could not find it. Weakened, the men said they feared becoming sick.

    Haiti needs help in the long term, they said. While people require housing and medicine now, they need a sustainable health system for the future, too.

    Janet has a simple message for all of her friends, no matter where they live: “We really need the hope and prayers of people around the world.”

    Medical Teams International has worked in Haiti since 2004, implementing development health programs across the island nation. Following the 2010 earthquake, Medical Teams sent health volunteers to the country to treat the sick and injured.

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, we are sending medical teams to southern Haiti to conduct disease prevention programs. Since the storm, our country staff has performed assessments and distributed supplies.

    As the hard work to rebuild continues, Janet, the 84-year-old woman who lives next to the church, remains optimistic. And she has a simple message for all of her friends, no matter where they live: “We really need the hope and prayers of people around the world."

  • Haiti: Cholera threat intensifies

    by Emily Crowe | Oct 26, 2016

    This story comes straight from the field in Haiti. Carmen, one of our staff members, just returned from serving victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti and shared this story with us:

    Long before Hurricane Matthew’s catastrophic encounter with Haiti’s southern peninsula, disease prevention was a major concern. Now, nearly three weeks after the recent storm, Haiti is a weakened state and straddling a fine line toward reaching a Cholera outbreak - the small country could be on the brink of another kind of disaster.

    Within the area, six of twelve cholera treatment centers are now damaged and not operating.

    Haiti-relief-house-hurricaneNew information reveals that the Southern region where Medical Teams International is working has experienced over 650 cases of Cholera since Hurricane Matthew, at least 17 resulting in death and 50% of new cases coming from these coastal communes. Within the area, six of twelve cholera treatment centers are now damaged and not operating. Those that remain open are not equipped with cholera treatment centers, putting those who need care at risk. In one center, patients were found waiting on the floor and sitting in close proximity to their families instead of being isolated to avoid further contamination - risking those who are ill and their families.

    “We haven’t seen cholera in recent natural disasters we have responded to, but when we do see it, it’s disastrous.”

    Should conditions continue on in this manner, it is very likely that the situation willHaiti-Hurricane-Matthew-distribution grow dramatically worse—fast. When asked about Haiti’s risk of reaching the breaking point for a Cholera outbreak, MTI’s Global Health Advisor, Frank Tyler, shared, “We haven’t seen cholera in recent natural disasters we have responded to, but when we do see it, it’s disastrous.”

    Medical Teams International is responding. In some of the most desperate communes, including Port Salut, St. Jean and Arniquet, Medical Teams is setting up Mobile Medical Units and disaster prevention programs. Our teams of volunteer medical professionals will reach the most vulnerable who have been affected by Hurricane Matthew.

  • Syrian refugees: Sharing fears, dreams... and watermelon.

    by Emily Crowe | Oct 25, 2016

    This story comes straight from the field. Ashley, one of our recent volunteers who went to Greece to provide care for Syrian refugees, shares with us a story about one of the refugee families she met while providing care for the many in need.

    Every day in the refugee center, there is a refugee family who insists on sharing whatever they can with the medical staff as a way of saying thank you – usually it’s watermelon.

    Miriam and Ahmed live there with two of their 12 kids. They say that before, life was safe. You could come and go as you please. Then ISIS came. People were questioned whenever they were outside and lived under a curfew. If Kurdish you were persecuted. You never felt safe as bombs could fall at any time.

    They sent eight kids out of Syria ahead of them where they are safely living in Germany, Belgium and the USA. Two of their daughters remained back in Syria as they were married with children.

    “It doesn’t matter where we go. I just want my kids to be safe. I want an education for them and stability. It is all about my kids.”

    In September 2015, the four remaining members of the family left for Turkey and lived there for six months. They could not work, so they fled by boat to Greece where they have been for the past six months. Medical Teams International has helped Miriam with her chronic back pain and Ahmed manage his hypertension and prostate problems.

    Medical Teams International ensures they have access to the proper medication they need to stay healthy. They say that before Medical Teams there was only a military doctor who just gave pills but did not examine or listen to the patient. They also say he sometimes gave the wrong medication.

    When Ahmed was asked what his hopes were for the future he said, “It doesn’t matter where we go. I just want my kids to be safe. I want an education for them and stability. It is all about my kids.” He said he would go back to Syria if it were safe but would not force his kids to go back. The last I saw of Ahmed was his family on a bus being transferred to a new camp after theirs flooded and needed to be evacuated. This strong, caring father had tears in his eyes as he had heard the camp he was going to was worse than this one... and there was nothing he could do about it.