By LAURA TESTER
They trekked as many as 18 hours by foot, hoping to reach one of A Better World Canada’s medical clinics.
The people from Tanzania heard the Canadian team would be treating patients in Kenya’s Maasai Mara region. Despite the heat, wildlife and other possible challenges, they plodded on to their destination.
Their unrelenting determination shows the extent of A Better World’s reputation in health education and treatment.
Several hundred Kenyans will line up to seek help from the compassionate volunteers.
“There are some people who are desperate and though they may not be urgently ill, they’ll come into the line for free medicine,” said co-founder Eric Rajah.
Since 2008, A Better World has hosted annual medical trips to Kenya. Its success is paving the way for medical clinics to be held in Tanzania and a second health centre to be built in the Maasai Mara, within the foreseeable future.
Last November, it organized its largest medical team ever.
Dr. Wayne Church and his wife Dr. Paulette Comeau, both family physicians from Red Deer, led 38 volunteers that included two other family doctors, two specialists, two pharmacists and Kenyan clinical officer Juma Sampuerrap.
By the end of the two-week trip, the team treated more than 1,600 people at 12 clinics, and trained 41 staff. It was a trip of several firsts, including the chance for one Canadian doctor to deliver a baby.
Each year, the medical team aims for both an immediate and lasting positive impact.They provide acute care, as well as train health workers and donate medical supplies.
The 2014 medical team visited urban places like Nanyuki as well as the far-flung villages of Kaplan Boi and Sopa in the Maasai Mara.
For the first time, volunteers treated patients at the Ndanai village health centre in conjunction with the local health council. Normally, A Better World works with charity-sponsored clinics.
One of the major improvements in 2014 was having two pharmacists along, said Church.
“In the past, we’ve had to put nurses in the pharmacy because they are the most familiar with dealing with medications,” said Church.
Red Deer’s Oksana McIntyre and her daughter Inessa, of Edmonton, were able to save time in several ways.
They pre-packaged medications that the doctors were able to hand out. They pre-printed some of the labelling.
As well, the pharmacists restocked the medications after each clinic — a task that used to fall on others.
“The medical team’s time was much more efficiently used by having the pharmacists along,” said Church.
The pharmacists had their own challenges. Translators helped with a language barrier and so did sun and moon images to tell how often medications should be used.
Kenyan doctors commonly wrote out the name of the drug without giving instructions, McIntyre said.
“Someone who wasn’t a pharmacist would have to go back and ask, ‘how do you want to use this?’” said McIntyre. “So it certainly saved time to have pharmacists out there.”
The pharmacists had to be creative sometimes. Since aero chambers weren’t available, they’d make their own devices for individuals with breathing or asthma problems.
“We got small plastic (water) bottles and we’d make a hole for the inhaler and use the mouthpiece for people to breathe through,” said McIntyre.
Antibiotics were the most commonly prescribed drug. Most of the time, two clinics were running so the women didn’t work together. They shared stories in the evening.
“It was an amazing experience, beyond what I had expected,” said McIntyre.
A Better World gave obstetrical and pediatric training to 14 health workers in the Maasai Mara, and to another 27 at the hospital in Nanyuki in Central Kenya.
“One of the big concerns in Kenya and a lot in Central Africa is maternal mortality, and postpartum hemorrhaging is one of the leading causes of death,” said Church.
Dr. Karen Hansberger, an obstetrician from California, spoke on postpartum hemorrhaging and also donated Bakri balloons in Nanyuki and the Maasai Mara.
These can be inserted and inflated when a woman experiences postpartum hemorrhaging and the bleeding can’t be controlled.
Church said the Bakri balloons are great for emergency situations in Kenya where it can take many hours to transport the patient to a larger hospital for treatment.
Data is being collected to see whether these Bakri balloons are reducing maternal mortality, Church said.
Nanyuki hospital staff deliver an average of 300 babies a month.
“This is the first time they were introduced (to this form of treatment),” said Church.
Other topics included difficult deliveries, eclampsia, seizures, pneumonia and asthma.
Dr. Charlotte Foulston, a pediatrician from Medicine Hat, spoke on neonatal resuscitation, a subject she’s passionate to share with in Kenya.
For Church, the highlight of the trip came after the training session in Nanyuki. Each participant was given a certificate and a 1,000 Kenyan shilling note (about $13 Cdn). The cash is about twice the amount an average person would make in a day.
“One of the nurses turned to me and said, ‘thank you for the knowledge’ so she really saw through the heart of it,” said Church.
Making a difference is what brings many medical volunteers back to Kenya and with A Better World.
As Oksana McIntyre says, everyone will come back with “more compassion and insight into the world.”