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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • 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.

  • 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."