Today marks my second day of a two-week tour to visit the VillageReach offices in Malawi and Mozambique. My mission? To get a firsthand perspective of the “last mile” and document our work through the words and stories of those who benefit directly from VillageReach programs. Unlike most of our program staff who travel regularly to the field, this is my first time traveling to Africa. I came as prepared as I could, following all the recommendations from the travel clinic, purchasing electric chargers and outlet converters, buying out all of the bug repellent at my local drugstore, and overpacking. But today, all of these preparations and details that I’ve been so focused on for the past few weeks seem insignificant in light of the experiences I’m having — and will continue to have over the next two weeks.
Today, we spent all day traveling to several hospitals and clinics throughout Lilongwe, Malawi. I met Hawa, a 20-year-old woman who was recovering from fistula surgery made possible through contact with VillageReach’s mobile health hotline, CCPF. She told us how grateful she is for CCPF because she can now lead a normal life again, free from the stigma she faced in her community. I also met several clinicians who work 6 days a week, serving more than 400 patients a day. I passed hundreds of women and children waiting for services at health centers – most of whom traveled at least two hours to receive care and treatment, many traveling by bicycle or walking. Access is a core component of the VillageReach mission, but I never fully realized the gravity of that word until now.
There are many small communities that are vastly spread out across Lilongwe District and they all lack access to many of the basic services that we take for granted everyday — healthcare being one of the most important. Unfortunately, we experienced the impact of that barrier firsthand on our way between health centers where we came upon the remnants of a terrible multi-vehicle trucking accident. The eight victims were brought to the health center where we were interviewing health workers, which at that time was out of water and electricity. The three most critical patients were transferred to the district hospital for further care (about 30 minutes away), but hours had passed since the accident. We were left wondering what their fate may have been if the health system had been better equipped to receive these patients and treat them when they needed care most.
While the accident is definitely the gravest experience I’ve had so far, I have also been incredibly inspired by the people who are working so hard to improve the health system. People like Aaron, a graduate of the Pharmacy Assistant Training Program, who told me, with tears in his eyes, that this program is a “dream come true” for him — not only because he is helping people, but because he is able to better himself and his life through education and a job that he clearly loves and is passionate about. I saw this spark of commitment and pride in the eyes of all the health workers I spoke with.
Tomorrow, I am heading out to Balaka and Kwitanda, two more rural communities. I am excited to learn more and meet more of the people who work so hard every day to improve access to quality healthcare at the last mile.