by Jeff Wagner, Coordinator - LWW Appalachian Field Operations
You've probably heard of the plight of people living in developing countries and the struggles they go through to get water. Often they may have to walk six to ten miles to the closest water source and then back again carrying the full containers of water – some weighing 40 – 60 lbs.
Consider, if you will then, that there are communities in the US where water may only be a couple hundred yards away from your home – clean, safe water coursing through a water main and yet, you have no access to it.
That is the dilemma for many families in Appalachia – municipal water may be located 1000 feet away from their home but they simply cannot afford to access it. "How can they afford not to," you may wonder?
One of the unique aspects of the model of Lwala Community Alliance, is that while there is a clinic, the program is multi-dimensional, there is also a strong water, sanitation, and hygiene program (WASH), a education initiative that partners with schools and helps to provide secondary school scholarships based on academic merit and need, Umama Salama, an initiative to train community members on basic lifesaving skills to reduce maternal and infant mortality, and a sewing cooperative. The clinic staff goes on school outreaches at local primary schools which includes health education and free preventive care.
Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), is the central hospital for the country’s public health system. The A&E (Accident and Emergency) functions as the essentially Level 1 Trauma Center and the Emergency Department for the country. Referrals come in from all over the country from outlying health clinics and hospitals if more specialized care is needed. Georgetown is also the population center of the country and so most patients arrive? to be seen first here with acute complaints. There are multiple clinics ranging from diabetic foot clinic to eye clinic to pediatric and surgery clinic that see and refer patient to the A&E for admission or further treatment as well.
One of the most heart-rending patients I saw was young man with HIV/AIDS. He had initially presented to the clinic on 12/10 with advanced disease (for the medical folks his CD4 count was 3) and was started on antiretroviral therapy (HAART). He came back to clinic in January dehydrated with diarrhea, some fairly advanced skin ulcers, cough and fever. I remember the morning he arrived he was laying outside the clinic on a mat an hour before opening, I could tell from a distance that he was incredibly emaciated, I went over to make sure he was okay, and this man, despite his illness gave me the sweetest smile. He continued to have such a warm smile throughout the few days he spent on observation with us while receiving IV fluids and antibiotics, and gradually improved though he was still very weak. He was discharged on home-based care and I walked with the community health workers to his house a few days later to see how he was.
I received a 24 year old pregnant woman in the ED via ambulance. Her prenatal care consisted of one ultrasound at the city clinic months earlier. She was about 36 weeks pregnant by the date of her last period, and this was her first pregnancy.
After a wonderful few days to spend time with my family and friends and recover from jet lag, I have arrived in Lwala, a small village in Western Kenya. My month in Lwala will be a combination of serving along side the clinical officers (similar to a nurse practicioner or physician assistant in the US) and nurses in clinic as well as a project focusing both public health and clinical services for malaria prevention and treatment. I thought I would provide a little context for my work this month.
A previously healthy 29 year old female arrived in the ED via motor taxi, accompanied by her family, early in the afternoon on a day I was working in the outpatient clinic. I stopped by the ED on my way home, and saw that Turno doctor had her hands full with the patient, so I stopped to help. The patient was hypoxic (74%), tachypneic (58 breaths per minute), and somewhat hypotensive (90/50). She complained of chest pain and shortness of breath for 3 days, and also thought she may have had a fever although she was afebrile on arrival to the ED. Her EKG showed sinus tachycardia, but was otherwise normal (we were only able to obtain limb leads). She appeared chronically ill. We were unable to get labs because of the time of day, and the patient was too unstable to transport for a chest x-ray. Pulmonary embolism was a major concern even though she had no risk factors, thus we gave Heparin for anticoagulation and started to arrange transfer to Guatemala City for diagnostic testing and treatment. After two hours of preparing for transport, collecting supplies (as there are none on the ambulance), and deciding which family member was going to accompany the patient, we were finally ready to go. Just prior to departure, the lab was able to run a rapid HIV test, which came back positive. This added more to the list of possible diagnoses. By this time the patient was on 10L O2 and a Dopamine drip. We added on several antibiotics for possible infection, and started the journey.
I have spent the last three weeks working in the Hospitalito in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Santiago Atitlan is a city of 50,000 people, located on beautiful Lake Atitlan, surrounded by three towering volcanoes. The hospital consists of a four bed ED, two labor and delivery rooms with two beds in each, three inpatient rooms, and an operating room. The two upper levels are currently under construction, but will greatly increase the capacity of the hospital. The staff consists of mainly volunteer physicians and local nurses and technicians. The main language spoken by the patients is Tz'utujil, which is then translated by the nurses to Spanish for the physicians. Patients came to the hospital from towns all around the lake and surrounding area. They often arrived via Tuc-Tuc (motorcycle-taxi), but sometimes walked, were carried by family members, or arrived by Bomberos (volunteer firefighters without medical training or resources).