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Trip Report: Ann Wessel in Tanzania

[Photos here and here. – Editor]

Ann Wessel from St. Mary’s traveled to Tanzania on a medical mission trip from June 5-17, 2009. The purpose of the trip was to visit programs supported by Jubilee Ministry, Diocese of Massachusetts, to provide technology and training to hospitals, and to establish relationships with hospitals leading to volunteer opportunities for medical personnel. Jubilee Ministry’s mission is to support programs in East Africa that care for people who suffer from the effects of the AIDS epidemic and related medical and social challenges.

The group stayed in Korogwe near the diocesan headquarters for the Diocese of Tanga. The diocesan grounds include a beautiful cathedral as well as the home of Bishop Baji (where we had dinner one evening), a school, a small hospital run by the diocese, and fields of corn.

We visited the Old Folk’s Home at St. Francis, Tanga, where there are approximately 40 elderly residents who have no family to care for them. Several of the residents were given prayer shawls knitted by women from Grace Church, North Attleboro. Funds raised by Trinity Parish, Melrose have been sent to purchase mattresses, forks, spoons and to repair the water system.

We also visited the orphanage in Mgombezi, where approximately 40 children who lost parents to HIV/AIDS receive funds from Jubilee Ministry to help with health care, medications, and also transportation, uniforms and supplies for school. Father Joel Makame and the children prepared welcome signs for each of us, and the choir sang songs welcoming us. We brought Obama t-shirts for some of the children. (Note: Every place we went, we weren’t just from America – we were from Obama Land!).

Bishop Baji accompanied us the day we went to Kizara, a remote village in the mountains. Many of the residents gathered on the steps of the 125-year-old Anglican church to greet us. As we saw throughout our travels, the homes are built of sticks and mud, often with thatched roofs. Cows, chickens and goats wander everywhere. Women and children spend significant time each day gathering water and wood for fuel. We discovered that the dispensary/healthcare facility, being funded in part by All Saints Parish, Brookline, is not completed, but considerable progress has been made. The facility will have an outpatient clinic as well separate rooms for adult, pediatric and maternity beds. It will replace a one-room outpatient clinic and a maternity/birthing room. The next big challenge for this project is funding solar panels to provide electricity and finding a source of water.

We spent several days at two hospitals, Teule Hospital in Muheza and St. Raphael’s in Korogwe. The hospitals are very different than those in this country. They have open wards with many beds, and mosquito netting hanging from the ceiling. The family often provides bedding and food for the patient. Mothers share the beds with their children. Staffing is minimal. Laboratory equipment, medications and other supplies are very limited, and frequently not available.

St. Raphael’s is a small hospital on the diocesan grounds. It has pediatric, maternity and adult wards. The operating room we saw was clean, but had open windows (no screens). Power outages are a way of life in Africa, so flashlights were available if needed.

Teule Hospital is a larger hospital of about 300 beds (although a “bed” in Africa may have two or three patients in it) that receives funding from both the government and the diocese. We spent time rounding with the medical staff, and two of the physicians from the mission team provided equipment and training to the staff on newborn resuscitation and reading EKG’s.

Ann, who is a pediatric dietitian, spent most of her time in the pediatric ward. At least half of the children were admitted for malaria. Many of the children and mothers are HIV positive, and tuberculosis and bacterial infections (diarrhea) from unclean water are common. Food insecurity is a significant problem. Most families rely on subsistence farming and eat mainly a maize porridge occasionally supplemented with egg or milk if they have chickens or cows, so malnutrition is also a common problem. Formula and vitamins needed to treat malnutrition were unavailable. The only children in the hospital who are given milk are those admitted for malnutrition; the others receive porridge and sometimes beans. The cycle of life and death is very different in Africa, as demonstrated by premature twins (about 29 weeks gestation) who were born our last day at Teule. Athough some babies this size may survive, the mom clearly expected her infants to die. They were resting side-by-side in a wooden box covered with a blanket, and the nurse was trying to convince mom to pump breast milk since the only other feeding option was cow milk – quite different than the neonatal intensive care units in this country.

We completed our medical work, and several of the group then spent a few days in northern Tanzania. The animals of the Serengeti were wonderful, but the lasting memories will be of the people we met and the many possibilities for making a difference in their lives.

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