Bringing Health Care Closer to Home
Felicia Chang, an AMREF Intern in 2009, Enters an AMREEF Operating Room in Rural Ethiopia
It is 6 AM.
Today, I am nervous and excited. I am 580 kilometres from Addis Ababa, the city I have called home for the past five months.
I am en route to Bahir dar, a city in north-west Ethiopia to put the skills I have developed during my internship into practice.
Today, I am a project Monitoring and Evaluation Officer – ready to observe urology surgeries for AMREF’s Clinical Outreach Program.
When I arrive in town, I board the nearest minibus heading to the Felege Hiwot Hospital, where the Outreach Programme team is awaiting my arrival. The minibus driver hops into his seat and we’re off.
We drive by many small blue and white, three wheeled vehicles with sputtering motors called ‘pagages’, and I catch enticing glimpses of beautiful Lake Tana through the smattering of hotels and buildings that line the lakeside.
With an estimated population of 167,261 and an area of 28 square kilometres, the city is a drastic change from the expansive, urban sprawl of Addis Ababa.
A Dangerous Shortage of Doctors
In 2006, the World Health Organization estimated that there were 3 doctors per 100,000 people in Ethiopia. To put this into perspective, in Canada, there are approximately 192 doctors for the same number of people! This contrast is even more pronounced when it comes to special services, like obstetric care, radiological services and urology.
In Ethiopia, most hospitals with the infrastructure and human resources to provide such services are in big cities like Addis Ababa. But 85% of people in Ethiopia live in rural areas, so receiving special care can be difficult and often impossible. Bahir dar is no exception.
But, AMREF is working to change this.
Reaching Rural Communities
Through its Clinical Specialist Outreach Program, AMREF is working to strengthen the ability of local health teams in rural hospitals so they can carry out health services themselves in the future.
Each year, AMREF surgeons train over 1,000 doctors in more than 100 remote hospitals in seven African countries. This training programme has been running without interruption since AMREF was founded in 1957.
In Ethiopia, AMREF works with 10 hospitals across the country to identify the services they need.
Doctors, nurses and paramedics from more populated areas are then mobilized to join the mission to achieve better health nationwide. These health professionals volunteer their time – leaving their homes and their work – to treat patients who would otherwise not have access to specialist care. During their time at the hospitals, the specialists provide on the job training, and conduct surgeries.
In the Operating Room
After a short trip on the minibus, I arrive at the Felege Hiwot Hospital where Dr. Gebreyesus Hagos, an anaesthetist, and Dr. Gashaw Melese, an urologist, are already busy at work conducting training sessions and surgeries.
I quickly put on the appropriate surgical gear and enter the room where Dr. Gashaw is operating on a 26-year-old woman. The experience is surreal; she is the same age as me!
The doctors are removing a stone from a narrow tube called the ureter that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder. She had been complaining of extreme pain and had difficulty urinating – two symptoms that are indicative of a urethral stone – but due to the lack of specialist care, her name was one of many on a waiting list at a hospital in Addis Ababa.
Dr. Gashaw guides me through the procedure, telling me that removing a urethral stone in Canada would be a much simpler and less invasive procedure. In fact, according to the The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, open surgery stopped being necessary to remove stones 20 years ago in North America.
I find this difficult to believe as he once again picks up the scalpel and moves it towards the open wound.
Approximately an hour later, the young woman is neatly stitched-up and wheeled out of the room.
AMREF's Long Legacy - Bringing Better Health Care Closer to Home
During the week that the Outreach Programme was conducted in Bahir dar, 60 patients were seen for consultations and 15 operations were conducted.
My thoughts remained with the 26-year-old patient. Now that her pain is gone, she can return to school. She has also saved the time and money it would have taken for her to travel to Addis Ababa for treatment.
AMREF was founded in the spirit of innovation, as the Flying Doctors of East Africa.
Fifty years later, AMREF continues to work with generous and compassionate people like the health specialist volunteers that I met in Bahir dar. They really are bringing better health to people across Africa.
Today, I am both humbled and proud to have been a part of the experience. Today, I learned that AMREF is truly making a difference.
Until next time,
FeliciaSupport our programs by making a donation.