Fast-track learning

Smack bang in the middle of malaria season, I arrived at Galmi Hospital in Niger, West Africa — their busiest time.

        The inpatient numbers doubled as we fit two patients to one bed, with the carers (usually the mothers) sleeping on a mat on the floor or under the bed. The numbers of people arriving at the clinic were so high that some had to be turned away to come again the next day. The doctors were working long hours under conditions that bear no resemblance to what we are so fortunate to have in New Zealand.

        While my experience wasn’t representative of the rest of the year, it was still incredible to learn more about malaria, from how simple treatment can be, to how fatally it can progress. The majority of patients would present with fevers, and a simple blood test confirming malaria meant we could send them home on oral tablets, or if they were vomiting, an injection.

        I was there doing my medical elective at this mission hospital of around 180 beds, run by SIM, serving a widely distributed population.

        Though I was a student, I was valued as a member of the team and considered to be one of the other doctors in that I admitted patients under my own name and did my own ward rounds on them. It was made clear from the beginning that there was nothing too stupid for me to ask for help with and I never felt as though I was left on my own – all of the doctors were approachable and able to help me work through best forms of investigations and treatments that were available. Initially, I did the on-call days alongside my supervisor, but towards the end of my time, I started to do them myself, with the doctor available nearby to come to check out patients if I was concerned.

        They also have a protocol booklet which helped with knowing the initial management, and the nurses were well equipped to deal with most things such as seizures, shock and trauma.

        Galmi’s outpatient clinic saw 4000 in September alone. The large number of people who come through often travel long distances to get care.  

        As a mission hospital, the hope of healing was strong. Doctors pray with their patients on the ward round, the Jesus movie is playing in the wards and waiting rooms, the ‘evangelists’ (local pastors and disciples) visit the patients and have their own consult room to meet with whoever is interested.

For a place that witnesses much suffering, it is a light to the community around it that no darkness can overtake.

        It would be fair to say that this has been the greatest learning experience of medical school for me. Every day I came face to face with something completely new, from malaria, TB, sickle cell disease to God’s extraordinary strength sustaining me through another sweat-soaked day.

        I’ve been interested in medical missions for as long as I’ve wanted to do medicine, and Galmi has provided a wonderful experience of what that looks like.

I know it’s the same God who is with us on the wards in New Zealand, or in our GP practice. It is the same God who is there on my night shifts and whenever I don’t feel like I know what I should be doing. But it was a real privilege and encouragement to see the work going on in Niger and to be reminded of the mightiness of our God.  

        Galmi Hospital is always looking for doctors and any skilled worker to offer services, whether short or long term. In fact, short term doctors are incredibly valuable to help give the long term doctors a break or share the load, and the hospital is well set up for these people, with designated translators and hospital protocols. August-November is the busiest time of the year with malaria and the need is particularly great (although they will take people at any time!) so if you would like to consider going for however long, talk to SIM NZ for more information on what’s involved.

       Students, this is a fantastic elective opportunity and I would highly encourage you to consider it for your own elective!

— Hannah Sim