Salone News

Introducing the Village Medical Project of Gorama, eastern Sierra Leone

7 December 2017 at 02:01 | 656 views

Contributed to the Patriotic Vanguard

Statistics and Information on Sierra Leone:

Sierra Leone is approximately half the land size of the state of Illinois, with a population of 6.5 million people. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has Sierra Leone currently positioned at 179 out of 188 countries with a life expectancy at birth of just 48 years.

The Village Medical Project for Sierra Leone (VMPSL) has been working in the Gorama Chiefdom located within the Kono District some 220 miles east of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, since 2008. Sierra Leone has suffered many hardships over the years. From 1991 to 2002 Sierra Leone experienced a brutal civil war over control of its diamonds, which became known as “Blood Diamonds”. The scars of that war are still present throughout the country. In 2014 Sierra Leone found herself in the mist of another kind of war. This one did not involve guns but something just as deadly, the Ebola virus.

The Ebola virus hit Sierra Leone particularly hard, killing several thousands and infecting many more. Prior to the Ebola epidemic Sierra Leone had about 136 doctor and 1,017 nurses/midwives to meet the medical needs of 6.5 million people. Sierra Leone lost 13 doctors and 315 nurses to Ebola. The Ebola epidemic damaged the entire healthcare infrastructure, leading to increased deaths from healthcare issues other than Ebola.

How the Village Medical Project Started:
Professor Aiah Gbakima and Wes Strickland attended Elon University, located in North Carolina in the early seventies and became close friends during their time there.Upon graduation, Wes continued his education in the field of bio-chemistry and Aiah in the fields of parasitic diseases and molecular biology. Aiah received his PhD in molecular biology and returned home to Sierra Leone. There, he concentrated his work on River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) and continued it throughout the civil war. In 2006 Aiah took on the job of bringing the University of Sierra Leone back up to standards after the war and contacted Wes to help with computerizing the University. By February 2008 Wes had raised enough money to do just that and was off to Freetown. While there, Aiah and Wes discussed the dismal state of the country’s healthcare system, especially in the remote rural areas of the country and what could be done to improve it. Over the next couple of weeks, several approaches were discussed, including the area of the country to start the project.

Once back in Nanaimo, BC, Canada, Wes contacted another dear friend in Chicago, Dr. Joseph Mitton. Eight months later Wes was back in Sierra Leone with three level 1 trauma physicians, 800 lbs. of medical supplies and along with Aiah and two Sierra Leone military physicians, the VMPSL began. Free medical care was provided to 1,064 villagers on the initial trip, living within half a dozen villages.By November 2016 the VMPSL had expanded its coverage to more than 2,300 people living in 24 villages.

What the Village Medical Project Does:
The VMPSL brings much needed medicine and medical expertise to small remote jungle villages located in the Gorama Chiefdom, Kono District. The Gorama Chiefdom is divided into two parts, those living up in the mountainous part and those living at its base. There is approximately 1,500 villagers living in each of these areas. The Gorama Chiefdom was chosen because Aiah was born and raised in it and our acceptance and security was guaranteed. At the start, the VMPSL conducted a comprehensive census village by village, where each house was assigned an identification number and a listing of its occupant” names, sex and ages were noted.

With an understanding of the various exotic parasitic infections we would be encountering along with the normal ailments and injuries people suffer from, we were able to put a supply list together to meet those needs. The VMPSL provides free medical care to all villagers in each village, giving special attention to vulnerable target groups, in particular, pregnant women, infants and those under the age of five. Each family unit starts at registration where their name, house number, weight and height is recorded on our form. A plastic wrist band is affixed with their personal ID number with that same number written on their registration form. The patient then moves to our lab where we are equipped to conduct numinous tests ranging from, malaria, hemoglobin, pregnancy, syphilis, HIV, etc.. The patient then moves to triage where their heart and pulse rates are recorded along with blood pressure. The patient is also interviewed by one of our nurses before moving to our doctor station. After the family is seen by one of our physicians they move to our pharmacy. At each medical station within our clinic, the patient’s registration form ID number and ID bracelet are checked to insure they match. This is especially important when the patient is receiving their medications at our pharmacy. Complete medical records are kept on each patient, both computerized and hard copy. A statistical summaryis shared with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the CMO of Sierra Leone, the DMO for Kono as well as the WHO Representative.

Sustainability:
The VMPSL understands the importance of conducting this project in a sustainable way. Since we are a medical project, it seemed logical for us to further assist these communities through education. With malaria, yellow fever, cholera, Lassa fever, meningitis, parasites and others all endemic and the recent outbreak of Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) in the country, it demonstrated the need to help teach these communities simple and practical disease prevention methods by strengthening education, health and sanitation. To appreciate the impact of various endemic disease on mortality in Sierra Leone, it is reported that malaria is responsible for 17% mortality in the country, followed by lower respiratory disease at 9%, protein malnutrition at 9%, pre-term birth complications at 5% and diarrhea at 5%, to name a few. The VMPSL initiated two educational programs. 1st, in 2009 the Minister of Health provided us with an extremely capable nurse by the name of Mary Morchendeh. In 2011 we placed Nurse Mary back into nursing school to become a licensed nurse practitioner (NP). Nurse Mary is stationed in the mountainous area of the chiefdom, caring for around 1,500 villagers. After completing her three year course, she is able to perform many of the duties of a doctor. Given how few doctors there are in Sierra Leone, she has become an even great asset to her people. With her advice, we have a second nurse, Christina Sam, going through the same three year course. Nurse Christiana will be stationed in the lower lying area with 1,500 people in her care. 2nd, our clinical results have shown that a sustained effort is needed to keep these people healthy and to achieve this goal, we also needed to educate the population to help themselves by adopting disease preventive measures. To do this, we needed to strengthen the education of the teachers, who in turn teach the children who will take the preventive health message home to their parents. This educational program was set up with the advice of Dr. Andrew McLaren and funded by the VMPSL and those of the ICU at Nanaimo General Hospital.

The Village Medical Project for Sierra Leone Society (VMPSL) is a registered non-profit charitable society run and staffed by unpaid volunteers. This includes the board of directors, legal aid, chartered accountants and all our medical professionals. Our volunteers also cover all their own expenses including, airfare, food, accommodations and in country travel. The VMPSL provides logistics, translators, bottled water, pharmaceuticals and all other medical supplies needed to diagnose and provide free medical care to those in need. To put things in perspective, when the VMPSL started this project in 2008 in the Gorama Chiefdom, Kono District, under five mortality was over 28.5%, it is now 1.17%.

Please visit us at vmpsl.org for more detailed information. Your donation will make a difference in these people’s lives.

Here are VMP founder Wes Strickland and a staff member being interviewed by a local television station in British Columbia, Canada:

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