This July, I returned to Malawi with VIP for my second medical trip. As a nursing student, I had experience with patients and hospitals, but never imagined a healthcare system like Malawi’s. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, it’s hard to fathom why you should care about a mosquito net over your bed or why you should get that sore on your leg looked at. You do your best to survive in an unforgiving environment with little resources. Malawi’s hospitals differ so greatly requiring family members to support the patients’ needs including meals while getting treatment. Going to the hospital as a mother means leaving your children home alone or with a relative to care for them. Going to the hospital as a child means having a family member come and cook for you. The hospital means taking time away from harvesting fields and providing food for your family. Treatment is often withheld until the disease progresses, making it even more difficult to treat.
My first day in the medical clinic my instructor, Lucy Goeke, said that I was needed to help a patient that just arrived. She told me the patient was an injured young girl named Aristina and that I should prepare myself. I entered the room with another instructor, Jackie, and immediately was taken aback. The young girl was my age, in her early 20’s. The mother told us, through our interpreter, that the girl was epileptic, suffered a seizure, and fell into a fire. Her shirt was holding on by threads as the fire had devoured the skin on both of her arms and even more so on the girl’s chest and breasts. She was covered in blisters as the burn had just taken place earlier that morning. We were limited so we applied ointment to the blisters and kept them from drying to the bandages we placed to keep infection out. The next day she returned and we were able to debride the burns and clean the edges to allow for new skin to grow. Another day passed until we saw the girl again. She seemed in much better spirits as the burns were feeling less painful. We set her up with dressings and arranged for her to return weekly to meet with a Villages in Partnership clinician. VIP employees and several clinicians came to continue care and meet with the most vulnerable patients. Leaving the girl in the hands of a Malawian clinician made it much easier since we had trust in their work. I received an update about five months later showing her progress and that only made me want to return to see her more.
Returning to Malawi this past July, I was amazed to see Aristina in such good spirits along with her family. We were welcomed to sit with her and the family as we conversed over how the past year had gone. Her burns were fully healed and she was smiling from ear to ear, something that I had yet to see. The mother said that Aristina stopped talking after the incident since it was so traumatic to her, but recently started talking again. Aristina faces many obstacles living in a rural village, but because of the care she received from the VIP clinicians, infection will not be one of them. When VIP asked the villages what they could do for this region, they responded saying the number one resource needed is access to healthcare. Building a clinic nearby means quicker access and less detrimental outcomes for villagers. The clinics treat illness along with disease and help with prevention including of fetal abnormalities and sickness by providing prenatal care through VIP’s partnership with Vitamin Angels. The clinics also offer access dental care. The dental clinic grows each year, continually advancing. Not only has VIP been able to remove teeth through these clinics but now they have been able to save people’s teeth and conduct cleanings. VIP supports thousands of Malawians and I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful team enriched with heartwarming people.