The latest update we have received from Kira in the Gambia follows a familiar pattern - another day, another life saved, and a salutary reminder why healthcare sits alongside education as a priority for the African Oyster Trust.
"On the evening I arrived back in The Gambia, I dropped off my bags and was
heading out for a quick supper before a much needed early night.
"As I drove across the little dirt track towards the Courtyard Cafe, I saw a big group of people in front of me. In their midst was a young man of maybe 20 struggling to carry a young teenage boy of perhaps 12 or 13 piggy back style. Perhaps he has hurt his foot, I thought.
"When I reached them it was obvious that the teenager was very ill indeed. He was deathly pale and almost unconscious. Malaria, they said. We are trying to take him to the clinic. Just then he vomitted all over the man carrying him.
"Since the nearest clinics are around 5 miles away, I offered them a lift. While they found a plastic bag to serve as a sick bowl, I telephoned Auntie Sally, the very capable head nurse at Sukuta Clinic, to tell her I was bringing an emergency case.
"Travelling by car meant we got there in under 10 minutes. Who knows how long it would have taken them to walk!
"I pulled in in front of their ambulance, which already looked full of patients
and ready to leave, despite remonstrations from the driver. Fortunately, Auntie Sally was there to meet us. She took one look, gave the boy an injection and put him on a drip and then loaded him into the ambulance to be transferred to RVTH in Banjul. I was so relieved that I'd blocked them from leaving earlier.
"While his brother filled in paperwork, the boy briefly opened his eyes and held onto my hand, obviously very scared. I wished them luck and asked the brother to let me know how they got on in Banjul.
"Cerebral malaria can kill within 8 hours so I fervently hoped that they'd got
him onto treatment in time.
"Three days later, I was delighted when the same boy walked in to my compound. He'd been in hospital all that time and had just been released but wanted to come immediately to thank me before going home. A very humbling experience.
"In the meantime, talking to Ansumana at our own Jappineh Health Centre, I learn that it has been a very bad season for malaria. Perhaps because of the late and heavy rainy season. Last month they treated over 400 patients there. By far the biggest number ever. At times they were two or even three to a bed.
"I am SO happy that Jappineh Health Centre is there to treat all those people. My experience with the young boy reminded me that before the clinic was opened, the people of Jappineh area had to travel for at least 20 kilometres to get to medical help. Many of them, I am sure, did not make it.
"Now, thanks to the many generous donations, they have health care on their doorstep and am ambulance too which can whisk them off to Soma in minutes."
A chance encounter in The Gambia has led to yet another exciting development at Jappineh - eye care clinics, the first of which saw 172 people checked in just five hours!
Sarah Johnson, an employee of major optical lens manufacturer Essilor UK, was on holiday in The Gambia when she overheard a bar-room conversation between our own Kira Dalton and a friend. Kira was explaining that she had received a donation of a box of spectacle frames but had no lenses for them. Sarah explained who she worked for and returned to the UK determined to help...
After a number of meetings with colleagues at Essilor, it was agreed that Sarah could collect unwanted single vision lenses from the business. In all she was able to gather together about 600 lenses to take back to The Gambia in May.
Kira then arranged for Sarah to deliver them in person, meeting with staff at The Sheikh Zayed Eye Care Clinic in Kannifing and then travelling with a group of 8 opticians and optical nurses to Jappineh.
The team then ran a full days clinic, seeing 172 patients in all, many of whom were able to receive glasses or even referrals for essential cataract surgery. With Jappineh being a 5 hour drive from the nearest optician, these were all people who would receive no eye care at all if it were not for this kind of clinic. In those circumstances failing eyesight can simply mean the loss of livelihood and potentially the loss of the only income for an extended family of a dozen or more.
Since Sarah returned from The Gambia she has received donations of over 500 frames, and is continuing to collect frames and lenses. Essilor have also arranged to run a charity auction next year with the aim of raising enough money to build an optical clinic in Jappineh, a wonderful prospect.
Our huge thanks go to to Sarah, to Essilor and to everyone who has supported their efforts on this wonderful project.
To help give an insight into the impact that the Jappineh Hospital and new ambulance are having on every day life in rural Gambia, this account of just one day has come in from Kira Dalton:
"Last week brought the busiest, and most rewarding day ever for our team.
"In the middle of the usual queue of daily patients, word came that a bush taxi (shared public transport) carrying 22 people had overturned on the main road nearby.
"The ambulance immediately transported Ansumana and his team there. On assessment there were 12 casualties who required urgent transport to larger hospitals.
"The 4 most seriously injured passengers were immediately taken to Soma where they were then stabilised and referred onwards to Banjul RVTH.
"The ambulance immediately returned for two more trips with 4 patients each who were taken to Faraffeni APRC Hospital and Soma Major Health Centre respectively. Meanwhile, the walking wounded were treated on site and then transported in various other vehicles, including donkey cart, to Jappineh Health Centre for observation by the remaining staff there. Most were later released.
"If our team and the ambulance had not been nearby - it doesn't bear thinking what would have happened to all of these seriously injured people."
What a celebration!
Not only Jappineh people, but most of the surrounding villages were all standing at the main roadside to greet us as we arrived. They then sang, drummed, danced (of course I joined in) all the way to health centre.
When we arrived there, many more people were waiting under the canopy for us. After the usual slight delay for prayers, lunch, waiting for the elders and the governor's representative to arrive, the speeches started off around 3 pm. Interspersed with more entertainment, they went on until well after 6 pm.
From what I could understand (and some were translated fully for me) everybody is just so, so, very grateful that they finally have an ambulance at Jappineh. It was great to hear, even if the amount of praise was reaching embarassing proportions!
As everyone was dispersing and going to look at the ambulance, a donkey cart pulled in. On it was a disabled woman, her wheelchair and 3 relatives. They had come around 5 km from a nearby village. Ansu immediately diagnosed severe anemia, possibly with heart failure and told her family she needed an immediate blood transfusion and to be on oxygen (which we can't do at Jappineh).
Imagine the relief of everybody concerned when we told them we could whisk them all off to Soma Hospital by an ambulance which had only just arrived. And when When we phoned the next morning, she was doing fine.
So, within a couple of hours of its arrival at Jappineh, the Mel 1 ambulance has already saved a life! To see the full story behind Mel 1, click here.
By Kira Dalton
On arrival at Jappineh Clinic last Friday, a young woman had just been admitted who had been gored by a bull and brought in by donkey cart (this was certainly not a minor wound - it had entered her left buttock, perforated her intestine and come out the front).
The three trainee Dutch doctors who were fortunately visiting with me immediately set to helping Anmsumana putting her on a drip and pumping her full of antibiotics and fluids as she was losing a lot of blood. As she clearly would need surgery, we then commandeered a rental car and driver and sent her, her newborn baby and mother - acccompanied by two of the doctors, to Soma. They were met by an ambulance which transferred her to Farafenni hospital. The Dutch doctor's did not rate her chances as very good.
We later learned she had been transferred to Banjul for surgery since Farafeni could not cope and had no blood supplies.
Today the Dutch doctor's report that she is recovering well at RVTH. If ever there were a case of extremely good luck this must be it. Also, it justifies exactly why we need an ambulance. Had we not all been there, she would never have made it by donkey cart!
By Kira Dalton
A brief update following a very productive three days up in Jappineh.
Firstly, the clinic building and environment looks terrific. All the painting is done. The Cuban doctor's house is now fully refurbished (where Ansumana and his family are living) as are the other staff quarters. There is even working running water in all three buildings and solar light! The compound is clean and they have planted cassava, bananas, eggplants, peppers etc. Fanding now plans to add flower beds near the main entrance.
Inside, every bed was occupied. Three cases of complicated malaria admitted on drips, one woman with pneumonia, a young boy admitted with convulsions and a dog bite victim. Ansumana has, so far, delivered around 20 babies there and been complimented on the high birth weights which reflect well on the good ante natal care he is giving.
Second morning we visited the newly completed two rooms at nursery - which look great. We presented posters for the walls to them and Lower Basic School and then gave out presents to each of the 75 nursery kids. Mostly the shoes and t shirts which came in the last Goodies for Gambia consignment.
Afternoon, we held a village meeting (attended by over 100 including Alkalos and Elders, talking about the need for them to help with funding next year. I have suggested that if they collect 5 dalasis each (around 10p) from every one
of the 20,000 local population, that will help tremendously with costs. Most agreed!
Other projects doing very well. Yesterday took Fatou from Jappineh, Abdulie and Fatou from Kunta Kinteh and Natoma from Talinding to visit Gunjur nursery. A sort of mini teachers conference. Went down very well so will arrange for
other teachers to visit each other in the New Year when school resumes after Brikama.
Kira Dalton recently had the honour and privelege of being invited to an audience with President Jammeh during his 'Meet the People Tour of the Nation'.
This was in no doubt due to the excellent effort that Kira has provided in relation to the opening of the Jappineh Clinic.
Kira took the opportunity to explain to his Excellency all the features of the clinic, but also stressed that we still badly needed the help of an additional midwife, as well as the government's support in the anti-malaria campaign.
His Excellency took Kira's counsel on board and within a matter of a few days the additional resources duly arrived - well done Kira, and of course His Excellency.
Gambian newspaper The Daily Observer has reported on the opening of the health centre at Jappineh, where so much of the work the Trust is supporting has been delivered on the ground by Kira Dalton. See the article here:
By James Holden, African Oyster Trust Founder
The News Diary is a regular account of all that is happening at The African Oyster Trust. Please pop back for regular updates, follow us on Twitter or sign up for our RSS feed to have the latest news sent straight to your computer!
The news diary is written by a number of people close to the work of the African Oyster Trust, including founder James Holden, his co-directors, trustees and volunteers.