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Marangu is a lush green rural Tanzanian town tucked in the shadows of the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro. MEDLIFE conducted clinics there in 2016. Many of the houses were very poorly constructed and offered little shelter from monsoons.
One particular case was brought to our attention when during a mobile clinic, an 84 year-old woman wrapped in colorful cloth came in named Elianasia, nicknamed Bibi, and asked us for help with her bathroom.
MEDLIFE staff followed her through the jungle to see her bathroom. It was hard for Elianasia to walk so far, her leg was causing her pain. She lived all alone, all of her children had gone seperate ways and were not caring for her. Her husband died tragically in 1962. When staff saw the rest of her house, they were surprised she was only asking for a bathroom.
Her kitchen was a fireplace sheltered by some wood poles and tattered rags, the bathroom was a hole in the ground covered by a small wooden board, which was being slowly devoured by ants and appeared it may collapse into the hole next time it was used. She did not have a room anywhere that could provide shelter from the rain. During monsoon season, she slept on a wet bed and tried to cook in the rain.
"I will be very happy if you can provide for me a house where I can stay," said Elianasia. "I am praying for you, so that god may bless you in everything that you do, thank you very much."
In 2017 the project was completed, thanks to a generous donation from Goodlife Travels.
MEDLIFE founder and CEO Nick Ellis, MEDprograms director Angie Vidal, and MEDLIFE Tanzania Director Neema Lyimo visited and found Bibi living happily in her new home.
Water access is an issue that communities around Lima continue to face. Development in the slums of Lima happens backwards, in that people move in and then utilities like electricity and water are installed, often times taking years to get a steady access.
The best option in Lima for water is connecting to SEDPAL, the city’s water system, however, many of the communities MEDLIFE works with lack the property rights and thus the legal designation as communities and are not eligible for water from SEDPAL. Communities without access to the city water supply, rely on water tank trucks to visit and deliver water.
Without a steady supply, those living on the outskirts of Lima use tanks and barrels to store their water. Sometimes, the containers were used in the past to store non-potable water or chemicals. These containers also run the risk of contamination from bacteria as they are often not adequately sealed and reused without cleaning.
People will buy water directly from the truck and fill in water tanks to use throughout the days between visits. Fabiolo Rosales, a resident of Nadine, lives at the top of hill of her community at the base of a wall built to keep settlements from spreading onto private property. When looking over the wall, she sees the wealthier districts of Lima with access to the city water supply and the occasional swimming pool dotting the cityscape.
“We buy our water for 25 soles and we pay much more than people living on the other side,” Rosales said.
Rosales experience is not uncommon. Buying water from the trucks can cost up to 12 times as much as public water utilities. Along with the money, there is the time spent waiting for a water truck to come and the labor of carrying the water back home. The poor truly pay the most for water.
The problem Laderas de Nuevas Esperanza faces is the road that leads to the community, is narrow and dangerous for the large water trucks to drive up, so often they do not. MEDLIFE worked to build a water reservoir for the community to safely store larger quantities of water between the infrequent visits of water trucks. Residents worry though, that during wet winter season, the truck will not be able to make it up the road.
“The water truck doesn’t come here often. Sometimes we need to wait for two days starting at 5 am, all day long, waiting for the water truck to come,” Maria Salas, a resident and community leader in Laderas de Nuevas Esperanza said.
The next step in Laderas de Nuevas Esperanza is building a road. MEDLIFE aims to bring more stability in access to water in Laderas de Nuevas Esperanza. With a water reservoir more water can be stored safely and for longer periods of time. A road would bring more frequent trips from water trucks as well as greater access to the community for other services.
The inauguration was an emotional moment for everyone. Nataly would finally be able to support her family and care for her children. Her son lost his arm three years ago in an accident with a cane cutting machine (full story here.) Nataly's family went under financially trying to cover the cost of the medical bills from the accident. Nataly told us the best thing for her would be able to work close enough to her home to still care for her kids. One of the pillars of the MEDLIFE ideology is sustainable development and support, therefore, MEDLIFE made it our mission to make this hope of Nataly's a reality. The MEDLIFE summer interns from 2016 fundraised for the project, and last week we delivered the cart to Nataly!
MEDLIFE recently completed our second of two massive staircases in Ecuador, drastically improving access to the community of Llinllin Santa Fe. The path is used by the communities school children to get to school, and now they can safely descend the mountainside to their school.
This Winter clinic season MEDLIFE performed around 300 pap smears in Lima and 270 in Ecuador to screen for cervical cancer.
In Ecuador our nurses deliver the results to community leaders, who hand out the results. In Lima, we used to rely on community leaders to hand out the results of the tests, but we realized the results were not always getting to our patients.
Our nurses decided that the only way to make sure their patients got the results was to deliver them themselves. They go community by community and call each patient to get them their results. They then explain the results to each patient and leave them their phone number so they can get in touch if they have questions.
Pap smears are an important screening for cervical cancer and can catch the disease while it is still treatable. They also test for various kinds of infections. Many of the women in our communities have never gotten a test nor are they aware of why they should get them. When we have a patient with an infection of some kind, we give them a prescription for the medicine they need. If they test positive for cancer, we get them an appointment with an oncologist and accompany them. Luckily, no one has tested positive for cancer yet this season.
Getting the tests in our Mobile Clinics gets them that first test, but it also serves the purpose of teaching patients about cervical cancer and why it is important to get yearly tests.
MEDprograms was initially concerned when they noticed the number of pap smears going down in the communities the more we visited. But after speaking with the women in the community, we learned that they had taken up the habit of getting a yearly test on their own. Medlife’s educational approach is working!
As more women get tested regularly in our Mobile Clinics, we expect to see fewer cases of untreatable cervical cancer and more women getting tested regularly in the future!