By Dr. Mindy Lull, Director of Domestic Programs and RCP Research
Not long after the launch of the Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) Program in Ipalamwa, Tanzania in the summer of 2017, a new idea was born. Though it was not part of the original plan, the first team of volunteers learned about the healthcare system in the Ukwega Ward and quickly recognized the limited availability of health services in the community. At the same time, it became apparent to Global Volunteers that for the RCP Program to be successful, families needed access to quality, affordable and reliable healthcare. With a little bit of luck, a lot of generosity, and countless hours of work, the Ipalamwa General Clinic (IGC), a modern healthcare facility, opened just one year later.
Since that time, the clinic has attended to over 24,000 patient visits, delivered 280 babies, provided over 5000 vaccinations, and dispensed over 1 million pills from our pharmacy to RCP families and other community members. For most patients, this care is completely free of cost; others pay a small fee for medicines or laboratory tests. The services offered and number of patients served, however, do not tell the whole story of the Ipalamwa General Clinic’s impact.
RCP families were surveyed before and after the opening of the clinic and were asked a series of questions about the healthcare they received. The results made our impact clear. Prior to the clinic opening, only 30% of families were always able to visit a medical facility when they needed to, and even less (22%) could afford the care. Now 67% of families can always visit a facility, and 74% can afford the care they receive. Perhaps even more astounding, 95% of families trust their healthcare provider now, compared to only 60% before the IGC opened. Those believing that they receive high quality healthcare also rose considerably – from 41% to 95% after the clinic opened.
RCP members Fatness Kikoti and Evaristo Myungile recently shared with us the impact that the Ipalamwa General Clinic has had on the lives and health of their family. Fatness told her Global Volunteers’ caregiver that “we are happy that we have this kind of health center. The program helped me to have a safe delivery and Baraka’s cognition has developed earlier than his older siblings did. There is a difference in nutrition and health, also, because being in the program has helped me to access health services any time I need to with my family.” Evaristo also spoke specifically of his own health challenges with high blood pressure; “… it is solved now because I have access to free medicines from the Ipalamwa General Clinic. So this challenge has been solved because since I started taking the medicine, I feel stronger than before.” The clinic fills a large gap in the care for both emergency and chronic conditions within the Ukwega Ward; something that was not readily available prior to its opening and will have an impact for generations to come.
While the clinic has a full complement of physicians, nurse midwives, a laboratory technician, a pharmacist and others, our volunteers also play a vital role. Volunteer physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, dentists, and students of these professions have all served in the clinic providing an opportunity for valuable two-way learning experiences. On a service program with classmates in Ipalamwa in 2019, St. John Fisher University nursing student Ashely Schubart’s: “I’ve learned so much about myself and my abilities, I developed myself professionally and got the confidence I needed to kick-start my career as a nurse, but most importantly I had the opportunity to connect with the local people and touched so many hearts.” On my own recent travel to Tanzania with pharmacy students, I saw this occur first-hand. Students shared their up-to-date learning on the best way to use a medication while our providers explained the unique challenges faced in a rural and resource-limited setting. Volunteers learned skills to apply to their own practice and our staff gained insight into new strategies and options for optimal medical care. The net result – patients get even better care.
The impact of the clinic does not stop at accessibility of patient exams, laboratory tests and prescription medications. Behind the hustle and bustle of daily activities in the clinic, magic is happening. What started as a local primary care clinic with delivery services has become so much more. Patients come from far outside the ward to receive the high-quality medical care provided by our Tanzanian staff and volunteers. Services have expanded to include monthly dental clinics, outpatient mental healthcare, a center for community health outreach, and pop-up specialty clinics from groups of volunteers. Most recently, we held the grand opening for the House for New Moms, a place for new mothers to stay before delivery to receive prenatal care, education, and easy access to the clinic for delivery. In just a few short months, 29 mothers have taken advantage of this opportunity to give their children the best start in life.
The next expansion will result in the ability to provide emergency c-sections and provide other surgical care from traveling teams of providers through a generous grant from the Peter J. King foundation to build an operating theater. The Ipalamwa General Clinic is now regarded as one of the best medical facilities in the region, and that reputation will only grow as we continue to address the needs of the community. As a part of the larger RCP program, the clinic complements the educational, nutritional, and psychosocial support components of the RCP program and makes progress toward eliminating stunting a reality.
Our Tanzania staff work tirelessly to provide medical care to the people of the Iringa Region, but none of this work can be done without the generous help and support of our volunteers and donors. Will you consider a contribution today to the RCP program and support of this essential medical facility? Donate now (link).