We left New York on a chilly Thursday morning and finally arrived in Malawi on a sunny Saturday afternoon. As soon as our plane landed on the tarmac, we were greeted by our local partners and got right to work. We literally hit the ground running.
On the Ground:
Malawi is heartbreakingly beautiful. The country was once the breadbasket of Africa. Sadly, severe droughts have made for a rapid decline. During times of drought, lush greenery is replaced by a constant haze of dust on the barren horizon. The country is still recovering from a devastating drought that sparked a famine that killed hundreds and caused severe malnutrition in 2002.
Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries, ranked number 166 of 177 countries on the Human Development Index. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death with 14% of the population is infected and nearly 100,000 people dying each year. Despite the government’s commitment to improving health, life expectancy is barely 41 years.
The people of Malawi now face disease and crushing poverty on a daily basis – yet they treat every moment alive as a gift, knowing first hand how fragile life really is.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and working with our partners, which has been receiving AmeriCares support since 2002. I have consistently been impressed by the love and care I see among the people there. Despite the presence of well-trained doctors – many graduated from both local and prestigious Western medical schools – the hospitals and clinics have limited ability to provide care and virtually no diagnostic capabilities. They would have few medicines and supplies were it not for donations.
Equipment is out of date and much of it is in great need of repair. Supplies that would be discarded in the U.S. are often recycled and reused.
Most families in Malawi live on remote farms, making access to health care nearly impossible. The average patient must walk for miles to get care; people delay getting care, which only makes things worse. In response, AmeriCares outfits teams of health workers with medical backpacks and bicycles to bring health care where it’s needed most.
One of the most memorable workers, Victor, makes house calls to pregnant women at high-risk for passing on HIV/AIDS to their unborn babies. Their medicines are very complicated, and Victor patiently and carefully makes sure they take just the right dose at the right time. I was thrilled to learn that the program has a 97% success rate and that so many children are born free of the deadly disease.
But even when Malawi’s children don’t contract deadly disease, they face major challenges and can suffer from chronic malnutrition. That’s why AmeriCares helped build a therapeutic feeding center in Malawi. The child I remember most was a young toddler who arrived at the Center just in time. He was emaciated. His fragile mother had carried him the whole way from her home, walking for nearly a day to bring him to the Center. Being the mother of my own young son, my heart went out to them. Her son stayed on intensive feeding for two solid weeks. When we made a follow up visit, I could not believe my eyes! His chubby cheeks and smiling face showed us that he was now thriving – reminding me of my own healthy little boy.
How we can help:
When I see first hand the results of our work with the people of Malawi, I feel all the more inspired to help AmeriCares efforts thrive and succeed. Their dedicated doctors and health workers make the most of every donation we give. Among the supplies they need the most are basic pain medicines, antibiotics, bandages, syringes and needles.
Maternal health is of serious concern. Many women have high-risk pregnancies and 25% of babies at local hospitals are born by surgical c-section. To care for these moms, they desperately need anesthesia, ultrasound machines, surgical equipment and other supplies to help with difficult deliveries. I was glad we were able to provide some relief with a donation of epidurals (strong medicines that help reduce labor pain while allowing a woman to remain awake during delivery), but so much more is needed.
I look forward to the day when I can return to Malawi and see more families living longer, healthier lives thanks to help from AmeriCares.