This summer I spent my 9-week medical elective at Sibanor Health Centre, The Gambia. This is a 50 bed rural clinic run by the mission organisation WEC International.
Our day health centers in The Gambia would start with prayers at 7.30 am, followed by a ward round and I was impressed with the way the doctors always prayed on the ward with staff before this started even though most were Muslims. Sibanor Health Center treated many children for malaria and malnutrition as well as other problems such as gastroenteritis and abscesses. On the adult ward there was a wide range of patients, particularly women with O&G problems, HIV related conditions and even a few snake bite victims. The rest of the day was spent in the outpatient clinic, on afternoon ward rounds and the all important siesta!
For half an hour each day we would see Madam, an 8-year-old girl who was suffering with severe burns. She first presented about 2 weeks before my arrival, with deep and widespread burns. Her thighs and trunk were burnt, superinfected and excruciatingly painful, she could barely walk. Two months previously she had been cooking beans and the pan had spilled them all over her, but it was only now that any help was been sought for her. Everyday we dressed the burns but only had a limited supply of bandages, gauze and cream. It was difficult, as I know had she been in England there would be an array of specialist help available for her whereas we didn’t even have a sterile environment or any effective pain relief.
To most people in The Gambia, Madam was not considered very important. Firstly she was a child, and secondly she was female. She rarely had visitors during her 2-month stay apart from her Grandmother who came most days to bring her food. I really enjoyed getting to know Madam; she spoke a little English and had quite a personality. The more time we spent with her the more confident she grew around these “tubabs” (white people). She would often join the ward round and push our trolley for us, and was well known by all the other patients. We tried to introduce Bible stories to her and it was great when she turned up at the Bible class that was run for the nursing students and came along to a Sunday School party. I’m sure that if Madam had the opportunities that we have in the Western world she could go far but the lack of education and low status of women in The Gambia will make this very difficult for her.
I really enjoyed my time in Sibanor Health Center, The Gambia, learnt a lot about medicine and what living and working on the mission field is like. It was a privilege to be part of the local church and hear about the struggles they face being in a Muslim country. It was really interesting to learn about Gambian culture and it was great getting to know the nurses, visit them in their homes and experience a bit of Gambian hospitality! I can definitely recommend it!
Main Clinic and Services in Sibanor Health Center
WEC International founded and has run the clinic for the past 50 years. They were very grateful to Evangelical Church of the Gambia (ECG) in taking over the running of the clinic at the beginning of 2018. WEC continues to support the ECG church particularly in helping to recruit expatriate clinical staff (doctors, nurses, laboratory and pharmacy staff).
Services offered by the clinic
Our aim is to meet the needs of the whole Person: body, mind, social and spiritual through outpatient, inpatient and community care in Sibanor Health Center. Sibanor Health Center offers general outpatient services on four days a week plus a 24/7 emergency service. Sibanor Health Center offer clinics in Non Communicable Disease (including hypertension, diabetes and asthma) and run malnutrition and HIV programmes. Additionally, Sibanor Health Center offer infant welfare and maternity services. We have a small 13 bed ward and two isolation cubicles. We strongly believe in outreach to the local communities and we undertake weekly visits to surrounding villages to screen for hypertension and diabetes. We also carry out home visits to people living with HIV and other chronic diseases.
Join Sibanor clinic established by WEC and run by the national church, providing primary healthcare services including antenatal, maternity, paediatric and adult medical care.
Share responsibility for the ward and care for all the patients out-of-hours. You will be allocated to either the general outpatient clinic or the HIV clinic for routine clinic duties.
Sibanor Health Center take responsibility for teaching, maintaining clinical standards in the clinic, and for developing the clinic’s relationships with other healthcare providers in the Gambia, and help maintain relationships with the local community.
This role could be suitable for a short-term locum or a long-term placement in health centers in The Gambia.
Earlier this year WEC in Sibanor Health Center, who started the the clinic 50 years ago, handed the facility to the Evangelical Church of The Gambia (ECG). I am seeing whether any of the eclectic mix of skills I gathered during my career may be of use during my 5 weeks. It looked like my combination of business consultancy/analysis, IT, process improvement, and data management within a clinical development environment may actually be helpful. I am looking at the pharmaceutical supply tracking process as well as re-use of data collected for government reporting/financial reporting. It’s not just a case of putting in a digital solution in the same way we might in the U.K. – the infrastructure and resources are different!
Of the ‘Real Africa’, I am learning to manage when the electricity goes out in the middle of cooking/eating dinner! Thank goodness for the gas stove! When an electrical storm also takes out solar backup, the fun really begins….
I’ve learned that it’s perfectly possible to wash greasy pots and pans in cold water and washing up liquid, and that cold showers every morning and night make showering so rapid it becomes a fitness activity in my activity watch (we have the luxury of hot water when we visit WEC HQ on the coast).
Talking of supermarkets, I was surprised to find some Tesco own brand on the shelves of independent supermarkets on the coast! In Sibanor, though, the biggest local supermarket is very different. I bought flour and sugar today and it was measured out from big sacks (I’m not sure the supermarket actually had electricity… maybe ‘corner food shop’ may be a more appropriate designation).
Lots and lots of other things to blog about when I get the chance. Sibanor Health Center is among the health centers in The Gambia
You are welcome to Sibanor Health Center