Earlier this year myself & Lara visited The Gambia to deliver several bags of maternity specific medical supplies to the Edward Francis Small Teaching hospital, which is the main hospital of the country in the capital of The Gambia, Banjul. This is a post detailing our time in the hospital & is dedicated to the hard working medical staff in the maternity ward there.
Our trip began by Musa picking us up from the airport & taking us to hotel. On the drive we got to know Musa & discussed the health, people & political climate within the Gambia, which was very interesting to me as this was the first time that I had been to a sub-Saharan African country so that first insight will always be well remembered. Lara had been to Gambia previously & had fallen in love with the country so was delighted to be coming back to visit!
After talking to other charities & researching what may be best received by a maternity ward in need we purchased 4 large bags of maternity specific equipment from the UK as well as more general medical supplies to take to the hospital, basically as much as we could carry with us on the plane. Musa had already made prior arrangements for us to meet with the public relations officer as well as the head doctor of the hospital on the Tuesday giving us a day to acclimatise to the West African culture.
The first thing of many that warmed our hearts was the open, friendly & warm nature of the Gambian people which we rang truer & truer the longer we stayed. By the time the trip ended we were fully in love with the place & it’s people.
We were warmly received by the head honchos of the hospital whereby we gave an official presentation of our donated equipment before taking it to the maternity wing. The public relations officer informed us of how timely our donations were as very sadly government funding is extremely stretched with all areas of the health service suffering because of this. It was indeed a shocking discovery to find out just how stretched these resources were upon visiting the maternity wing.
We were introduced by Musa to Fatou, the head nurse of the maternity ward who again told us that the supplies could not have come at a better time for the ward & greatly thanked us. We were pretty nervous by this point as to what we may see while in the ward after hearing of so many cuts. We were also pretty nervous in general as it was completely unexplored territory for me, Lara & Chris who had joined us to help document the trip. What do we say? How should we be? Will our equipment actually be of much use? All sorts of thoughts were going through our minds at that time.
All in all we were very well received though! Initially there was a little confusion from the doctors & nurses of why we were there which then became a very warm reception once it was explained that we came with donated supplies & instruments.
Before I go any further I’d like to say that the medical staff of the EFSTH along with all the other medical staff throughout the country are absolute heroes for the work they do on such stretched & limited resources. They work extremely hard with limited resources for very long hours for very little pay to help the mothers & the next generation of Gambian children. It is comparable I think to being a website developer who has access to an old windows 95 computer for a couple of hours a day to do their work.
The nurses told us some stories of theirs & their patient’s hardships; Because of a lack of surgical scissors (all of theirs were rusted & highly unsuitable for going anywhere near a patient) the nurses have to use surgical scalpels as an alternative. One nurse slipped while cutting through a patient’s dressing & cut accidently cut herself & then was found to have contracted HIV+ through the wound from the patient from not having a pair of surgical scissors.
There are two incubators on the ward; one of them has a broken heater so cannot warm the newborns to the correct temperature & the other one has a working heater however the oxygen delivery to the incubator is faulty & cannot supply any oxygen to the babies. In a ward whereby up to 15 babies can potentially be delivered a day two incubators are simply not enough & when we visited we saw 3 newborns to one incubator which was on one hand incredibly heartwarming but on the other hand very sad.
Many nurses develop very bad backs over the years of their work. This is due to a lack of conventional stethoscopes to be able to listen to the patients heartbeat & beds that are fixed & cannot be raised up. The nurses need to crane down day in, day out to use handheld stethoscopes & lift patients & develop serious back problems because of this.
The nurses facilities.
There is only one ultrasound which is shared between the theatre, maternity ward & gynecology unit which puts the lives of the women & babies at risk on a daily basis. The theater itself is severely underequipped, lacking the most basic of surgical instruments such as forceps & speculums & with a life support machine that no longer works.
The only ultrasound in the entire ward.
The list goes on with there being a large lack in complex machines such as ultrasounds to basic supplies such as mosquito nets & hand sanitser. Upon speaking to the Nurses, Doctors & newborn mothers in the hospital we walked away with an acute understanding of the struggles that are faced in a Gambian hospital & resolved to help as much as we can to help ease the dire shortage within the hospital.
The operating theatre & a standard delivery bed.
We requested a list of needed supplies & materials from the hospital that we picked up towards the end of the trip but surmised that pretty much anything & everything medical is needed as well as anything that a newborn baby or mother might find useful. We took 3 bags of baby clothes with us as well to give to the new mothers to give to the little ones!
The GMFs goal for 2016 is to collect enough medical supplies & equipment to be able to fill a shipping container with the view of sending it to The Gambia in early 2017. You can help us with this task! We will be looking for anything & everything medical equipment wise to send to The Gambia. No donation is too small; there is a home for everything, plaster to ultrasound, scissors to autoclaves, bandages to beds.
The list of needed equipment can be found here: http://gambianmaternity.foundation/donate/
We will also be looking for any old baby clothes or anything a mother or baby may find useful! We are currently looking into storage solutions for any donated clothes or toys so if you might have any then please hold on to them for the minute! We will be putting out a call to action for clothes & toys in the lead up to Christmas.
If you have any contacts for acquiring medical equipment or have any other donations then we would love to hear from you! Please contact us on this email address: email@example.com
Alternatively a cash donation will help us purchase, collect & transport said equipment, you can donate to the cause via the link at the bottom here: http://gambianmaternity.foundation/
A huge thankyou to everyone who was involved in creating & those who came to Big In The Gambia 2015 – without the combined efforts of such a great bunch of people our efforts in January would not have been possible.
Another huge thankyou to Alex Ralls of the UK charity ARC (Affecting Real Change) for introducing us to ARC’s Gambian operative, Musa Saidy, who facilitated all of our dealings with the EFSTH & the Ministry of Health. Because of Musa’s progressive attitude & kind nature our time in The Gambia was very fruitful & productive.
A huge thankyou also to Chris Cooper of Shotaway.com for accompanying us to the EFSTH & taking such fantastic photographs for the GMF.
Thankyou for reading & join our newsletter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to hear more about the cause as we develop the GMF into a fully fledged charity.