Help Madina – how Sierra Leone changed my life

Gloucestershire GP Dr Veronica Sawicki, Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene 2010, shares her ongoing volunteer experience as co-founder of charity Help Madina (www.helpmadina.org.uk) in Sierra Leone.

Together with so many people, I care passionately about improving health care inequalities in the world.

I did my Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2010. This incredible, wonderful and amazing course opened my eyes to the fascinating world of tropical medicine. Even more importantly for me however was learning about diseases of poverty.

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Patients walk miles to be seen at a mobile clinic.

The world is not a fair place but each one of us has the power to make a difference, to relieve human suffering. In my own very small way I am trying to do this. I have been a GP for many years working in Gloucestershire.

Eight years ago, I booked a flight to Sierra Leone. Nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed. The children of Madina were to change my life.

Nabi’s mother brought him to the hospital where I was working as a volunteer. He was emaciated, covered in flies and he did not have the energy to utter a sound. Nabi was my introduction to severe malnutrition in children.

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Admaya blowing bubbles.

Another child, Admaya, was admitted to the feeding centre five years ago. She received treatment for malnutrition and TB.

Since 2008, I have visited Sierra Leone every year spending about three months at a time in Madina Junction, Tonko Limba chiefdom. Madina is a small community of around 4,000 people in the Northern Territory close to the Guinea border.

Inspired by the work of a Xaverian missionary Brother Bruno and together with my husband (also a doctor) and my sister (a senior orthoptist at Kings College London) we set up a charity called Help Madina.

Our aim is to improve the health and wellbeing of the community in which we serve. The projects we support are led by the local people and include:

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Mother and child at feeding centre.

Medical Projects 

  • Mobile clinics
  • Chronic Disease Management
  • Screening for Tuberculosis
  • Cataract Programme
  • Children’s Feeding Centre

 

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Agricultural development of 50 acres of land.

 Community Projects

  • Water and Sanitation
  • Care of the Elderly
  • Football
  • Assisting with agricultural development for community benefit

More recently during the devastating Ebola crisis we were asked to support two major initiatives created in their entirety by the community.

Ebola Neighbourhood Watch

A group of over 200 trained local volunteers visited over 130 villages and 40,000 people in their homes to provide information about Ebola and advice about hygiene, safe burial practices and the avoidance of traditional healers. The findings of this project are being processed.

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Ebola Neighbourhood Watch training.

 

Education by Radio

The schools have been closed for almost a year. Teenage pregnancy and prostitution have increased in Madina and the surrounding villages. This project is providing radio education for 5,000 children. It is not ideal but better than nothing.

Other Initiatives

Over the last few years I have had the privilege of working at the Holy Spirit Hospital, Makeni where Dr Patrick Turay is medical director.

Here in 2012 we launched one of the first diabetes clinics in the country. We have trained nursing staff, a diabetes protocol and register with designated diabetic medical records. Did you know that insulin is not readily available in Sierra Leone?

We actively support the 100 Campaign (www.100campaign.org) for universal access to insulin in developing countries by 2022 (when insulin will be 100 years old).

The Future

I am due to return to Madina and Makeni in April for two months. My priority will be to assess the impact that Ebola has had not only on our projects but also on the communities.

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Dr Veronica Sawicki, Professor Dave Moore, Dr Patrick Turay, and Dr Ian Furbank.

 

Alumni Welcome

If anyone is interested in joining our endeavours we would be delighted to hear from you. You can contact us via our website http://www.helpmadina.org.uk/contact/

We have amassed a wealth of data for analysis on all of the topics listed above and we are uniquely placed to offer opportunities for further projects and research aimed to benefit the communities.

Dave Moore has been incredibly supportive of our work. He visited Madina and Makeni in 2010 and we have welcomed three DTMH alumni volunteers also. Please note however that we are entirely self funding. As such, every penny donated to Help Madina reaches the people and the projects it is meant for.

Help Madina co-operates fully with National Government Guidelines.

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Admaya’s recovery.

My Inspiration

Little Nabi made an excellent recovery. It took time – he had severe underlying infections including TB – but he got there.

Admaya is now healthy too and still blowing bubbles.

To make a donation to Help Madina, please visit our secure website http://www.helpmadina.org.uk/donations/

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