By Dr. Lynda Wilson
It is hard to believe that my three weeks in Malawi is almost over! It has been such a privilege to be here and to teach in the new PhD program, and also make many new friends and renew old friendships. Another week has flown by. My last blog was written on August 15, before we headed for an amazing weekend to visit the Bushman’s Baobob camp near the Liwonde National Park, about a 3 hour drive north of Blantyre. The day started with a trip to the Blantyre market to stock p with vegetables and other food for the trip. On the drive we passed many villages and small towns, and saw lots for sale in the markets, including barbecued mice on skewers, which seemed very popular in one particular village.
The Bushman’s Baobob camp is beautifully situated in an area with more Baobob trees than I have ever seen in one place…the legend of the Baobob tree is that God became angry with the Baobob for being too proud of its beauty, so turned it upside down…the trees indeed look as though their roots are where their branches are. Debbie and I shared a chalet with a curtain for a door and I must admit I was a bit anxious the first night that the monkeys or elephants would smell the trail mix that I had left in my back pack and want to come for a visit – but alas, no such problems!! The stars at night were amazing, and we had a lovely early morning drive and then walking safari in the park where we saw lovely birds as well as elephants, impala, wart hogs, and water buffalo.
A highlight of the week was a visit to the neonatal intensive care unit and neighboring Kangaroo Care ward…this is an 18 bed unit (soon to be expanded to 40 beds), where mothers stay for up to 3 weeks and care for their preterm infants providing 24 hour skin-to-skin care to keep the babies warm (since there are not enough incubators to meet the needs)…in the small and crowded neonatal intensive care unit they have no ventilators, and only four CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines which they use to deliver oxygen to the smallest preterm babies. The head nurse explained that they usually do not treat infants who weigh less than 1000 grams (they have to make difficult decisions and set priorities to decide who can get the CPAP since the resources are so limited). Malawi is a leader in the global Kangaroo Care initiative, and many hospitals have these Kangaroo Care units, which have the potential to save the lives of preterm babies in such low resource settings.
I taught my last research class with the PhD students on Wednesday, and they surprised me with a lovely farewell luncheon and presented me with three lovely chitenge (the beautiful African fabric). Two of them had designs that were advocating for Kangaroo Care and for support of premature babies (“Every Premature Baby Deserves to Live”)…This was so touching as the students know how passionate I am about newborn health!
On Wednesday after class I travelled from Blantyre to Lilongwe, a four hour beautiful drive through the mountains…we were treated to a lovely African sunset over the mountains just as we came into Lilongwe, about 6 pm…I spent the past two days on the KCN campus in Lilongwe meeting with Dean Address Malata, an amazing nursing leader. Address was recently elected as Vice President of the International Council of Midwives. An unexpected treat was the opportunity to have dinner and then meet today with Tore Laerdal, the son of the man who founded the Laerdal Company in Norway…this is the company that produced the original CPR training manniken (Resuscianne), and has subsequently produced many different products to aid in simulation training in health care. They have launched a $2 million project in Malawi and Zambia to save the lives of 10,000 newborns by providing training to midwives about “Helping Babies Breathe” and Promoting Safer Births. Here is a link to the brief project video for the 10,000 Happy Birthdays video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AQCqxuare0
Further information on our programs can be found on http://www.laerdalfoundation.org. During our meeting today with Tore and his team, one of the KCN faculty members shared results from her qualitative study for her MSN thesis in which she followed up 30 mothers who were discharged home from the Kangaroo Care unit…I had tears in my eyes as I heard some of the quotes from the mothers she interviewed in their homes. One mother dug a hole in the dirt floor of her hut and filled it with peanut shells and then placed the baby in that hole in order to keep the baby warm. I am continually sobered when I see the depth of the poverty here and amazed at the resilience of the human spirit…how people can cope with what I cannot imagine having to cope with.
I am eager to return to Malawi (hopefully in January) and to continue to work with the amazing students and faculty I have met here.