Sunday, 12 February 2012

Medical volunteers in Namibia

11 OCTOBER 2011

N/a’an ku sê Foundation is a Namibian based charity dedicated to protect and improve the lives of the people and wildlife of Namibia. Our vision is an Africa where humans and wildlife can live and thrive together. Our mission is to conserve the land, cultures and wildlife of Namibia and rescue species threatened by an ever-shrinking habitat.
We run several volunteer programs and our aim is to provide volunteers with the wonderful opportunity to contribute to the medical welfare of the San community and experience unspoiled African wilderness. Our volunteers are key to the success of this special place. All the money raised through our volunteering programme goes directly back into the project which provides employment, healthcare, education and accommodation to the local Bushman community and to ensure the rescue, survival and rehabilitation of orphaned and injured African wildlife.
Namibia truly is a wonderful country to experience, the scenery is spectacular and you will work with our friendly and dedicated team. If you come prepared to learn and to give your best you will be rewarded with a fantastic experience and wonderful memories to take home.
We do hope you will come and join us!
Dr Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren
owners, N/a’an ku sê foundation
Medical Volunteer
During the project you will spend your time at our remote San Bushman clinic in rural east Namibia. The village homes around 500 San and Herero villagers and the clinic is at the heart of the community. Here, you will assist our Doctor and Nurse with the running of the Lifeline Clinic and help provide primary healthcare to the local community. You will provide hands on support at the clinic, participating in observations, running reception and helping in the dispensary. You will deal closely with patients from the local San community, learn more about their way of life and give care to patients living in extreme poverty at the clinic’s remote location.
Your arrival and departure base will be our N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary, near Windhoek Airport, so if you choose you can also have the unique opportunity to stay here a few days and work with the animals here. The Lifeline Clinic is in Epukiro (or Pos 3 as it’s commonly known), approximately a 5 hour drive from the sanctuary and we will arrange all your transfers.
Our aim is to provide volunteers with the wonderful opportunity to experience African wilderness in the knowledge that they are contributing to improving the lives of the people of Namibia.
The story of our clinic
One cold August morning in 2003, a San lady brought her ill baby to the back door of a farmhouse in Eastern Namibia. She was desperate and Marlice van Vuuren, a well-known Namibian conservationist and trusted friend of the Bushmen called her husband Dr. Rudie van Vuuren. The child had severe respiratory distress, was severely malnourished and in a critical state.

The nearest hospital was 120km away in Gobasis so Rudie quickly phoned the hospital and demanded an ambulance collect the child immediately. It was a public holiday in Namibia and Rudie could hear that the ambulance driver was not very keen to come and pick up the child. Two hours after the call Rudie realised that they would have to take the child themselves. 

Rudie swiftly modified an animal IV set they had available and put up an IV line in their car, and drove the long journey to Gobabis. As they walked into the hospital the child went into cardio respiratory arrest. Marlice ran to the nursing station where three Herero nurses were sitting. They did not even get off their chairs as she explained the situation to them. Marlice and Rudie found the theatre and tried to resuscitate the child. The child died that day. 

In retrospect it became evident that there was severe medical negligence, mainly because the child was Bushman. Marlice and Rudie knew that they had to do something about the health needs of this poorly treated community. They joined together with their long time pharmacist friend Chris Heunis and decided to act. Chris donated medicine while Rudie started carrying out informal clinics. It soon became clear that the need was far greater and they needed a permanent facility to run their clinics. 

Through a series of sponsorships and donations, they were able to get the funds together to buy a building and start up the Lifeline Clinic in Epukiro
Lifeline medical clinic
The clinic is dedicated to the health and welfare of the San Bushman community. The San are considered to be the oldest culture in the world and are traditionally hunter gatherers. They have been forced from their original lands, which are increasingly being used for grazing cattle, leaving the San unable to survive in their traditional lifestyle. Bushman are treated as third class citizens and live in extreme poverty. N/a’an ku sê is committed to improving the lives of the San community through education, healthcare and better living conditions. Our aim is to give the next generation of this poverty stricken community the education, healthcare and help they need to survive and build a brighter, healthier future.

Our Doctor and Nurse, with the support of San translators, treat around 3,000 patients every year. Approximately 40% are children and 70% of these are under 5 years old.  TB and HIV are prevalent in the community as is alcoholism. We also see a lot of patients with aches and pains, and everyday problems. Common diseases amongst our child patients include fungal infections, intestinal worms, diarrhea, dehydration, malnutrition and mouth infections (e.g. oral thrush). By themselves, these infections and illnesses may not be particularly severe, however if left untreated they will get much worse leading to complications and in severe cases even death.

In addition to our GP clinic, our Doctor also carries out regular outreach work at Pos 10 Primary School and Skoonheid, a resettlement programme, in support of N/a’an ku sê’s friend and fellow Doctor Helene de Kok. We also hand out donations of clothes, shoes, soap and toothbrushes to adults and children where possible.

Our Lifeline Clinic has received international recognition for the work we do. The Honourable Minister of Health, Dr Richard Kamwi, is patron of the clinic and in December 2010 we were awarded first place in the Community Health Awards, by the International Health Promotion Awards, held in Rome, Italy.
Activities and work
At our rural clinic in the remote area of Epukiro you will work alongside the clinic’s Doctor and Nurse to learn about the common diseases affecting the local population and how to treat them. You will deal closely with patients from the local San community, learn more about their way of life and give care to patients living in extreme poverty at the clinic's remote location.  The teaching will be tailored to your skill level, background and knowledge.
Prospective medical students can expect teaching on basic clinical skills, history taking and examinations of patients. Trained professionals will be asked to run consultations with patients and assist during the outreach work. This will provide a great opportunity for trained professionals to have a greater impact on the people who are at most in need of help.
Depending on the length of your stay, you may be asked to undertake a research project/assignment. This should be something that you are interested in, as well as be something that is useful to the clinic and of benefit to our patients. Examples of projects include mapping distances patients travel to the clinic and local patterns of disease, rates of TB amongst our patients and compliance with medication, and our patients' knowledge of HIV transmission and disease.
Whatever your background or experience, you shall assist with the daily duties which may include:
  • Primary Healthcare: observations, reassurance to patients, treatments and emergency referrals
  • Observations: pregnancy tests, and urine tests for patients and recording findings
  • Weighing babies and recording growth charts
  • Blood pressure recordings
  • Glucose testing and recording
  • Wound dressings and cleaning of wounds
  • Help in the pharmacy: stock control, packing medicines and new orders
  • Family planning
  • Substance abuse counselling
  • Financial record keeping and data capture input
  • Accompanying the nurse into the community to carry out procedures
  • General maintenance and cleaning of the clinic
  • Helping with projects around the clinic such as the vegetable garden
Volunteers often have special skills that are invaluable to the clinic and we encourage you to use them and suggest new activities that you feel the project will benefit from.
Wildlife sanctuary
Depending on your length of stay with us, you may also get the opportunity to spend some of your time participating in the Wildlife Volunteer project at our sanctuary near Windhoek. This project offers the rare and exciting opportunity to help care for orphaned and injured African wildlife. The sanctuary currently provides a safe refuge for orphaned and injured wildlife including a number of lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, caracals and baboons. Our Wildlife Volunteers provide an important resource in caring for and feeding the animals on a daily basis, helping to maintain and develop the sanctuary and becoming surrogate parents to our orphaned baby baboons, bottle feeding and sleeping overnight with them.
"After countless years of constantly dreaming about visiting Africa I was finally able to volunteer in a medical capacity. I find it COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE to even try to put the significance of this experience in words. This was without a doubt the apex of my adventures in preparation for medical school, mainly because of the insight I obtained into the lack of a health care system in places of extreme poverty and the opportunity of meeting people like my amazing mentor Dr. Sarah France and all the San and Herero People living at Epukiro.."Miguel Ernesto Velez, Puerto Rico - Medical Volunteer, June 2011
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