It’s shortly after 8 a.m. in Arusha, Tanzania and the scene unfolding on the street in front of the New Hope Olorien community clinic, while new to me, is a familiar one for the 15+ member staff and those that live nearby. The street, unpaved and barely wide enough to fit two cars side-by-side quickly fills with dust, commotion and plenty of engine exhaust and it stays that way for much of the morning. People arrive by foot and bicycle, others hitch a ride on a motorcycle or the always entertaining dala dala (a Tanzanian taxi which was likely made to fit 7-8 riders that typically is filled to double that capacity). I watch as older men with canes, young pregnant women, a teenage boy, an entire family with an ailing aunt and an elderly Masaii matriarch - all ages, all backgrounds - all arrive to the clinic looking for answers and relief from their pain.
“This is one of the most popular bus stops in the neighborhood,” Dr. Byemba, the man nearly everyone is coming to see, says to me as we watch people walk through the entrance and begin the check-in process. By the end of today more than 70 patients will pass through his care – “a very slow day,” according to the doctor – by the end of month nearly 3,000 and at year’s end close to 30,000 people will have the chance to answer the question, “Je, ni kuumiza?” or “What is hurting?”
For many people the words “clinic” and “Africa” may conjure up images of tents or rudimentary operating rooms and lines of people haphazardly waiting for medication and while these do exist, the New Hope clinic is far from this reality. Thanks to the generous donations of many of you that are reading this and the work of Dr. Byemba and his staff, the NHI clinic is a top-notch, government accredited medical facility. Instead of temporary tents and disorganization, the NHI clinic is a three, cement building compound with a dedicated lab, x-ray facility, pharmacy, ultrasound, operating room, multiple examination rooms and it utilizes an electronic medical charting system that allows the doctor to track patients and streamline the check-in process much like visiting the doctor in the United States.
By the end of the day, I’ll have the chance to watch Dr. Byemba diagnosis and treat respiratory issues, remove multiple teeth and a cyst, perform a circumcision along with reexamining and evaluating multiple prior treatments on patients including a finger amputation and a child suffering from epileptic symptoms. While I’m reminded of the many patients I saw that day, it’s the faces of the last two patients that have remained consistently in my thoughts as of late.
Joseph was a laborer who started experiencing pain and swelling in his hand. He visited a local clinic near his home where they simply cleaned and scrubbed a small wound on his hand and sent him off with a basic medication for pain (Tylenol). The pain and swelling didn’t stop and after visits to five more clinics and hospitals many of which performed the same treatment all to the same effect, the pain became almost unbearable and he arranged a ride to the NHI clinic on the advice of a friend to see Dr. Byemba. Swollen nearly twice its size, Byemba said his hand was within days of needing complete amputation – remember that Joseph was a laborer who needs both hands to work – but after examining him and seeing where the issue was coming from, a small cut on a finger that became extremely infected, Dr. Byemba removed the finger and within a day the swelling began to subside. Now, nearly a week later the hand was back to normal with no sign of infection and Joseph was able to resume work.
Godwin is less than a year old and I was in the outdoor waiting area of the clinic as he was carried in by his father late in the afternoon. With his arms and legs dangling motionless beyond his dad’s frame, it was his eyes that were glassed over and rolled back that caught my attention. Soon after he was seen by the doctor I had the chance to learn more about what was wrong. Several months after birth, Godwin developed a fever one day which went undiagnosed and untreated. That fever eventually went on to cause brain and nerve damage that triggered sometimes eight or more epileptic seizures a day. Unable to find a doctor that they could afford that would treat Godwin near their home on the other side of Arusha, they heard about the NHI clinic and soon had the chance to meet with Dr. Byemba. After several tests, Byemba was able to diagnosis and source a prescription that would ease the seizures, the first step in a multi-faceted recovery process. Now several weeks later, Godwin is seizure free and while he still has a long road ahead of him, the family and Dr. Byemba are consulting with a local specialist to do all they can to help Godwin regain basic muscle functions.
These are just two of the hundreds of cases that are occurring each and every day at the clinic. Our goal is to bring more and more of their stories to you throughout the coming year and hopefully it will spur you to action – maybe you have a desire to serve in the clinic (we have a fully-furnished, American style apartment on site that is available), maybe you can support the clinic either financially or sourcing needed medical supplies but nonetheless we hope that you will pray for the clinic and the amazing work that is being done on a daily basis.
Written by T.J. Walter