$1.50 Can Save a Life

The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran an article about Dr. Frank Artress, a cardiac anesthesiologist from Modesto, California, who after a brush with death while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro determined to leave his work in California to give back to the medically underserved of Tanzania. (http://www.sfgate.com/cgibin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/05/04/BA8MUSL28.DTL&ao=all) Tanzania, according to the article, has an 80 percent unemployment rate. The other 20 percent earns “the equivalent of $1 a day” leaving them without the money for bus fare, “let alone a doctor bill.” According to the article, “… the patient-to-doctor ratio is as high as 60,000 to 1 in some of the more remote areas. Poverty, isolation and lack of dependable medical care mean most adults have never seen a doctor. Most don’t live past 40, succumbing most often to malaria, tuberculosis and routine infections from drinking dirty water. A quarter of Tanzanian adults are HIV-positive, and the majority has no access to antiretroviral medicines that keep the virus from escalating to AIDS. Half of all Tanzanian children are malnourished.” As Artress explained, “You can save someone here with $1.50 worth of antibiotics – but the heartbreak of Africa is that people don’t have access to that most basic care, so they are dying of completely preventable diseases.”
Sound familiar? It should! This is the very purpose behind CompassioNow and its Compassion Tea Company. CompassioNow supports the Tanzania Christian Clinic in the rural village of Ngaresh Juu in northern Tanzania. About 6 km away from Monduli and about 50 km from Arusha, this part of Tanzania falls under the designation of a “medically underserved area.” The clinic’s February 2012 newsletter describes some of the typical complaints coming to the clinic: “Continuing to travel a long way to be seen, patients with malnutrition, rheumatoid arthritis, typhoid fever, amoebic dysentery, inability to urinate due to schistosomes (parasites) in the bladder, acute alcohol toxicity, fungal and bacterial skin infections, sexually transmitted diseases, scabies, TB, brucellosis, and HIV frequent the clinic.”
In their March 2012 newsletter, Danny and Nancy Smelser, who serve as MD and RN at the clinic, retold the story of a 32 year old man who had been hit by a motorcycle last December. Because he was unable to pay for the leg surgery he badly needed, he had been discharged from the government hospital. Desperate, in severe pain, and badly infected, the man arrived at Tanzania Christian Clinic. They removed the dirty cast and bandages and assessed the situation. Steady rounds of antibiotics and continuing dressing changes have eradicated the infection and through the help of the TCC and its supporters, the man is awaiting surgery scheduled at a teaching hospital 2 hours away.
Following this description of success, the Smelsers recounted an afternoon’s events. They wrote, “Yesterday, while patients crowded onto the clinic’s front porch, our grounds worker, Enock, spotted an eight-foot black mamba [snake] nearby. Needless to say, that was one patient that did not leave TCC alive! Meanwhile, our German Shepherd was disassembling our washing machine on the back porch of our house to capture a hedgehog which had taken up residence behind it. Oh the thrills of East Africa!”
Treating the medical needs of patients who come to the clinic is only part of the picture. TCC also believes in empowering local peoples with knowledge of how to treat and prevent disease, infection, and wounds. Mobile medical clinics go around to areas surrounding the clinic with the intent of teaching. This, too, is an important element of CompassioNow’s mission and vision for helping. CompassioNow’s board and founders believe that part of the transformation of the African continent will come about through the “development of self-sufficient communities.” In a place where the patient-to-doctor ratio is a staggering 60,000 to 1, the odds are that a person isn’t going to see a doctor in his/her lifetime. But maybe a neighbor has and maybe that neighbor knows what to do for a skin infection or maybe that neighbor teaches how to wrap a wound to prevent infection. In a place where $1.50 can save a life, a little bit of knowledge can save many lives.

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