In Malawi, patients in a remote area of the eastern city of Zomba are heaving a sigh of relief following the arrival of an American university team who are providing medical help to patients at the nearby clinic.
The residents consider this a blessing to the patients living near the clinic. Since its inception it has catered to children under five years of age largely because of absence of medical doctors and nurses for adult patients.
The team is made up of 10 medical students and three faculty members from Mercer University in Georgia. Their project, called Mercer on a Mission, provides medical help to patients at the church-owned Chuluchosema clinic in the area of traditional authority of Chikowi.
Dr Zipangani Vokhiwa, an Associate Professor of Science at the university and the team leader, said "the service learning project means that the students who come from America to Malawi provide a service to the community, in this case at the clinic. But while they are servicing the community or people of Malawi, they are also learning something from them that will help them to articulate their learning process once they return to America.”
The students, who are under the supervision of the medical doctors who have come with them, examine patients with different ailments and prescribe medications they have brought from the United States. Among the ailments treated are pneumonia, eye problems, malaria and high blood pressure.
Besides providing medical help, Vokhiwa said the students are strengthening their knowledge of international medicine, environmental health and toxicology.
Part of the effort includes monitoring the water from streams and boreholes used by the communities in Chuluchosema – a hilly and bushy area with about two thousand households.
“The purpose of that service," he explained, "is to examine the quality of water and water sources surrounding Chuluchosema area. The students will also learn whether the water is good or bad. [If the results are negative], they will serve the community saying “… let’s have [the water] chlorinated or make sure that you boil it before you drink it.”
Deshonde Hillsman, one of the medical students, said so far she has noticed the community’s need for clean water.
“I see the women using the same water to wash clothes, bathing, to wash dishes," she said. "Something has to be done about water supply here. Without clean water and everybody using the same water I see a circle of global health issue on the rise,”
The Very Reverend Dr Cyrus Ncozana, a clinic supervisor, applauds the presence of the medics.
He said since its inception the health facility has never had medical doctors – only health surveillance assistants trained to treat common illnesses like malaria and diarrhea. The assistants -- who usually assist under five children – can also refer patients to hospitals for treatment.
“We are highly dependent on our DHO (District Health Officer) sending us health surveillance assistant," he said. " But we have built two medical staff houses and we are hoping that our synod is going to send us [medical] staff who will be permanent here because the nearest hospital is about 14 kilometers from here.”
Francis Mphinga, the assistant environmental health officer for the area, said although the clinic needs a medical doctor, the gap is sometimes filled by [visiting health care professionals or doctors paid for the ministry of health] in a program conducted by the district’s health office.
They usually come two to three times [a month], providing treatment for malaria, diarrhea, and other serious diseases. He said they also also provide family planning services and under five clinic.”
This is the second time Mercer students have come to Malawi. Two years ago they helped install a solar water pump at the clinic.
Similar programs for the Mercer University have improved lives of rural communities in African countries including Tanzania, Mozambique, Liberia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ethiopia and also in Cambodia and Vietnam in Asia.
Listen to report on Mercer College project in Malawi