Medic Malawi – The Warm Heart Of Africa

Medic Malawi – The Warm Heart Of Africa

If you’ve ever spent time in Africa, you may well be aware that she tends to steal your heart.  There is something about the place that is difficult to put into words; the raw beauty of the land, the open friendliness of many of its inhabitants, the wildlife, the heat, even the magnificent thunderstorms seem larger than life; an experience of living in technicolour.  If you’ve had the pleasure of listening to African voices singing in unison, and felt the hairs rise on the back of your neck, then you are on your way to understanding the response that she, ‘Mother Africa’, evokes.

But Africa is a continent of extremes and sadly, amidst the beauty, the consequences of poverty are apparent, casting a dark shadow across the land.  Malawi is one of the most impoverished countries on earth with many of its population facing life without enough food, adequate healthcare, and education.  Life expectancy is low, many facing death from illnesses such as AIDS and Malaria and in the last decade, maternal deaths in childbirth have increased by 100%. 

I recently chatted to Tom Hunt, UK Director of Medic Malawi, a charity which works in partnership with St Andrews Hospital, AMAO Orphanage and the wider community of Mtunthama, rural Malawi.  Established in 2001, the charity’s mission is to provide quality, accessible and sustainable healthcare for the people of Malawi and to create a safe, loving supportive and sustainable environment for Malawian orphans. We met at Grow Coffee House, and as we sipped our refreshments, I was acutely aware that whatever financial challenges we may face here in the UK, we are worlds apart from the poverty prevalent in Malawi. 

medic malawi africa female hospital

Tom has been involved in helping the community in Mtunthama since 2009 (working through a different charity) and this year through Medic Malawi. He heads up operations in the UK as well as Africa, often travelling between the two countries. His role also involves overseeing all of Medic Malawi’s UK based activities, fundraising and day to day management. A large part of the job also involves supporting the management team at St Andrews Hospital and the AMAO Orphanage.  

St Andrews, an Anglican Mission Hospital, employs 116 staff members and serves a rural community of 53000 people. It is also the only maternity referral centre and healthcare provider in the district, serving 150 000 for maternal care. 

The charity also arranges a monthly eye clinic, with a team going into the rural area covering the whole of the Kasungu district. Working with local health workers and village elders, they identify people with eyesight problems.  Tom said,

“Last month, in the first week of the programme, they reached 500 people who were identified as having eyesight problems and many were able to be treated at that time.  In the second week, around 100 people, who needed to go to hospital, were given follow up treatments by a team of specialists who came up from the capital. The second phase of the hospital treatment was that 30 people were identified as needing eye surgery; on that day they performed 30 cataract operations, back to back.  The patients stayed at the hospital overnight to recover and the next day their patches were taken off. Two women were completely blind when they arrived at the hospital and within 24 hours, they’d had a cataract operation and they could see.” 

It is this type of joyful moment that is so rewarding for Tom and one of the many reasons that the Medic Malawi exists.  A woman, who was completely blind and needed to be assisted onto the operation table, was able to read the writing on her box of eye ointment just a day after her operation.  What a difference a day can make when you’re in the right hands!

medic malawi africa man telephone doctor

Tom stressed that the charity’s involvement is one of support and that it is important that they aren’t seen to be taking over and that the running of everything is Malawian led.  He said,

“That’s why we work in partnership with the management team at the hospital and the orphanage, to encourage them.  The big drive that we are heading towards now is sustainability. We want to see the hospital and the orphanage stand on its own two feet financially.”

Tom mentioned that out of the 83 children living in Amao Orphanage, only 2 have no living relatives.  A long-term project is being planned to try and move away from just housing the children, who, whilst they are provided with a loving environment and given a chance at life, should ideally be able to live with their own families.  The goal of the project is to work with their families, who are currently too poor to take care of them, to try and strengthen and uplift them, and ultimately, reunite the family. 

Besides financial assistance, which is vital to enable the charity to continue its work, Tom mentioned that people in the UK can offer practical assistance, too. When I asked how, he said,

By capacity building, in terms of the management of the hospital. They don’t have a doctor, they had one for the last two years, but he’s just left, so in terms of helping all the clinicians at the hospital; doctors going out from the UK is great.”

He explained that the team is greatly encouraged when doctors from overseas visit, as spending time with people is a highly valued part of Malawian culture. 

I asked Tom what he does to relax and unwind and his response was: wild swimming; he recently took part in the Burgh Island swim for Men’s Health. He aims to swim somewhere outdoors, without a wetsuit, once a week and is still on track for this year. He tried to be encouraging by saying that you get used to it taking your breath away. Brrrrr!

On what the future has in store, Tom and his family plan on spending a month in Malawi next year. They will stay in the village where he will be able to spend a lot more time with the hospital management team.  His wife and a group from Exeter will help at AMAO Orphanage, taking some of the younger children, who have spent their whole life in the orphanage, out to do some Kid’s Club activities. Sounds like fun!

The charity, under the direction of Tom,  is also going to be organising an Exeter Medical Professional’s event on the 16th January at Grow Coffee House.  It will be an opportunity to network, as well as raise the profile of Medic Malawi as part of a project to raise funds for some new oxygen generators for the hospital.

If you would like to learn more about Medic Malawi, pop onto their website: medicmalawi.org

medic malawi logo

Written by Stella Nicholls
Photos supplied by Tom Hunt

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