Wednesday, August 28, 2013
States, and I am a first time volunteer with PINCC. I am hoping to
build on the excellent blog post that Tenay wrote on Monday about our
work in the Kibera slum of Nairobi. To say this week has been "eye
opening" is a huge understatement. It is challenging to work in an
environment with limited resources, yet continue to provide a high
standard of care. PINCC does an amazing job of stretching and
utilizing the resources that they do have. We reuse anything that can
safely be reused. Also, we do not have an autoclave large enough to
sterilize the many speculums that trainees and clinicians use when
screening approximately 35 patients each day. Therefore, there is a
very specific cleaning process that occurs to make sure that we are
thoroughly cleaning speculums and not infecting anyone.
Kibera slum is a difficult location to implement a cervical cancer
screening program. Kibera is home to an estimated 750,000 people (it
is almost impossible to accurately assess the population because
people come and go frequently) crammed into an area approximately the
size of Central Park in New York City. Many in the slum are still
unaware about what cervical cancer is, and the importance of being
screened. The women who have come to the clinic this week have been
very brave. Many of them come alone. The ones who do come often appear
anxious and state they are scared for the exam and/or finding out
their results. (Those who do not know their HIV status are also able
to have a rapid test to find out). The women who have precancerous
lesions on their cervix are usually able to have them removed the same
day. Women who discover that they are HIV positive receive counseling
and are educated about options they have for medical treatment.
Dr. Virginia Hanson, a gynecologist and our medical director this
week, has been performing the LEEP procedures. A LEEP procedure
removes dysplasias (pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix.) She told us
these are the most difficult LEEP procedures she has done in her 30+
years as a physician. In the United States, these lesions would have
been removed long before they had progressed to this point. But here
in Kibera, they are extensive and have grown close to the vaginal
wall, making removal much more challenging. Fortunately she has been
able to remove them before they progress to cancer. Unfortunately at
this time there is not a physician at Tabitha Clinic who PINCC is able
to train and certify in LEEP's, but the clinic will be working on
finding a physician who can be trained on a future PINCC trip. In the
meantime, PINCC is able to train the nurses, midwives, and clinical
officers in how to do Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA), Visual
Inspection with Lugol's Iodine, and cryotherapy.
The PINCC support staff and clinicians have remarked repeatedly how
impressed we all are with the trainees this week. They are Kenyan
nurses, nurse midwives, and clinical officers (similar to the role a
physician's assistant has in the U.S.) They are eager to learn and are
catching on quickly.
Certainly, it can be disheartening to see the difficulty that the
people of Kibera have in accessing health care or even staying healthy
in such extreme living conditions. Heart wrenching as well is seeing
cases of cervical cancer, which is an almost 100% preventable cancer.
(Dr. Virginia told me today that she only saw two cases of cervical
cancer while working as a gynecologist in the United States.) But, we
still have hope for the women of Kibera. We see the trainees who are
working very hard to learn how to do these screenings and continue to
advocate for women's health after PINCC leaves. They have learned much
these past three days and will attempt to learn as much as they can in
the next day and a half. After our team leaves, they will be expected
to continue doing as many cervical cancer screenings as possible
between now and when PINCC returns for further training in six months.
Thank you for your support of PINCC and we look forward to updating
you again later this week!
Monday, August 26, 2013
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Saturday, Aug. 17 Eight of our group arrived Saturday evening at the Mennonite Guest House (MGH), greeted each other and had out first meeting to plan our week at Bungoma Districtl Hospital. Some of our group were lucky enough to have had a side trip to Nairobi Regional Park Game Reserve today and spotted lots of plains animals…up close and personal. Three more will join us at Bungoma on Sunday.
MGH is set amidst lovely gardens and rooms are very nice.
Sunday, Aug. 18 was travel day to Bungoma. Some took a 9 hour van ride across Kenya towards the west through the beautiful hills and valleys of the Rift Valley with deep greens of the fields contrasted with the red earth The weather was changeable and beautiful cumulous clouds accompanied the whole way. Our driver, Mike Muthama, was a pleasure and answered all our numerous questions. Others opted to a flight and only a 2 ½ hour ride. We rendezvoused at the Bungoma Countryside Hotel. We will be here all week. We are two to a bungalow with our own bath.
The food is country style, potatoes, rice, shredded salad of some type and stew of either chicken or beef, pineapple for dessert. It is relatively the same every night, but the conversation is lively and improves the appetite.
Monday Aug. 19 was D Day. The first day is always a bit difficult as we learn our parts and place in situ for the first time. It's sort of like the first rehearsal of a local play. We have 4 exams rooms and one very small office. Our clients, the women of all ages, stations and education crowd to us for information on how they will be seen. The clients are very eager for this free service which impacts on their reproductive lives. Over the next several hours, question after question, step by step, both of ours and the clients' needs fell into place to get this mobile clinic in a foreign land up and running. Carol carefully answered all our questions. We had some missteps, but they were few.
We take a tea break about 10 for a sweet samosa type bun, a sausage and tea. Lunch comes about 2, of chopped kale, rice, potatoes and some type of stew. Notice the similarity here. But we sure eat it all.
The staff has showed up, doctors, nurses and clinical officer students and most are eager to learn. Our PINCC doctor clinicians are eager to teach. It is a good combination. As everywhere, the staff vary in their skills and commitment, but overall it is a motivated group. We saw 30 patients today, including LEEP. Not bad for a first day. Our Kenyan nurse- midwife, Ruth Kitai, taught a wonderful class in the waiting area, full of lots of humor, which broke the tension for the clients sitting, waiting, wondering.
Tuesday, Aug. 20 and we're moving along a good clip and we saw 40 patients today. We did 2-3 LEEPS. We couldn't train on the cryo as there was no gas. The problems we encounter in this multi-faceted endeavor seem small as the Kenyans are a pleasure to work with; polite, soft-spoken, amenable, flexible with a sweet graciousness. All the clients, doubly so…so gracious, so grateful. We often receive blessing as they exit the exam rooms after their stressful exams. We saw 50 clients today and found four cancers. One was quite advanced. Our PINCC staff can find this very hard to process as we assume the client would survive in the US, or at least receive supportive palliative care.
Wednesday, Aug. 21 Our clinicians feel the medical training is going well. All work so hard in the small, crowded rooms, hour after hour. At 3 pm every day, our Medical Director, Dr. Virginia Hanson, leads a class for the Kenyan staff. Towards the end of the day, about 3-4 pm depending, we start to gather up records, clean remaining instruments, and re stock rooms. Our office people keep us on track, which is not easy as we try to be fair re the first come first served principle, but at the same time, flexible. It ain't easy. Others of staff work hard to keep ahead of data that needs to be entered and backed up. The cryotherapy is up and running and we're doing our training.. Tonight the clinicians had a meeting to evaluate the Kenyan staff and identify those who may need more support in the learning process.
We had a special treat as about 30 Community Health Workers came in from far and wide for a class today to learn about prevention of cervical cancer and then spread the word.
Tonight we went out for pizza. We ate by candle light as due to the rains, all lights were out. This usually happens with a hard rain. We saw 50 clients today. All agreed, the day felt much more "fluid."
Thursday, Aug. 22 In spite of our breaks for tea at 10 and lunch at 1: 30 or 2 , the staff gets weary in the afternoons. We do keep going, but this is not for the lame or halt. I never work as hard all year as I do with the few weeks at PINCC. The staff knows we are leaving and I honestly feel they will hate to see us go. Today volunteer Mimi Pirard, who is a professional singer, treated our clients to a lovely French ballad. They returned the favor and sang to us. Saw another 50 clients today.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Our PINCC team from the US arrived in Douala yesterday. More than half of the team boarded the plane for home or a well-deserved vacation in Paris! while Carol, Monica and myself hugged and waved them goodbye, our feet still on Cameroonian soil.
It has been an exciting, exhausting adventure, full of learning, surprises, pot-holes, ice-cream, Monkey fruit, car & moto horns, and many cervices!!
The week in Yaounde at the Bethesda Hospital ended well. The group of trainees we worked with were ready and excited to continue to use their new skills- correctly identifying the GSC (squamocolumnar junction in French) and by the end of the week were more confidently deciding whether an exam was "adequate" or "inadequate" and "positive" or "negative". One gynecologist, Fidelia, exceeded expectations and was certified in VIA on the first visit!
In Yaounde we screened 189 patients (according to Shelby's and Reid's fine statistics), did 42 Pap smears, 5 biopsies, 2 LEEPs and 4 cryos. As we went around in a circle during our closing ceremony, sharing what we learned, there were tears and laughter. Monica learned even with language barriers we can still communicate (although all French speakers out there, get excited about Cameroon!) and I learned (which served me well in Kumba) that it is often necessary & incredibly helpful to get down on one's knees to do a proper speculum exam & adequately visualize a cervix!
From Yaounde to Douala in Dr.Nkeh's van we traveled (our driver is a car doctor and has even written a manual on car maintenance for other drivers in Cameroon) so we always felt very safe in his vehicle. Although safe, we also felt cramped and hot as we made our way to the humid and rainy climate in Kumba, 2-3 hours north of Douala.
On our journey, we passed rows and rows of banana, palm and rubber trees. We went through many toll booths which consisted of a man standing in the middle of the street collecting coins from the passing vehicles. Our adventure began as we attempted to find a place to stay in Kumba. After Dr.Nkeh's car got stuck in the mud, requiring all of our female strength to push it out, we arrived at a hotel and finally were able to stretch our legs.
In Kumba we were welcomed by Stella, a nurse in Cameroon, who originally motivated PINCC's trip to Cameroon. Stella is a passionate, dedicated nurse who opened her own medical clinic- We Care- in the Kosala neighborhood of Kumba. I leaned from both Stella & Carol that Stella found PINCC on the Internet, and continued to write to Kay many, many times until Kay was finally able to make the trip to Cameroon, one year ago. Stella's dedication & commitment to her patients brought PINCC to the We Care clinic to continue to teach Stella and other nurses, nursing assistants and lab technicians (who routinely do many vaginal exams) VIA and cryotherapy. Although Stella's clinic has minimal resources, Stella is a fighter and she will continue to bring many resources to her clinic to better serve her patients.
Although we were only in Kumba for less than 3 full days we screened 137 patients, did 49 Paps, 1 biopsy, 1 LEEP and 6 cryos.
I know I, and I think it is safe to say the other PINCC volunteers from the US will leave Cameroon touched by many amazing individuals we had the opportunity to meet.
We will also be leaving with dresses, skirts, pants and shorts handmade by an incredibly skilled Cameroonian seamstress, with fabric we purchased in Yaounde! The very-fashionable seamstress, Mercy, took our measurements one day and the next day an after-work fashion show took place as we modeled our new attire, which brought delight to all!
It was exciting for me to be a part of PINCC's first trip to Cameroon- according to Carol, Cameroon was a success. After spending the last couple weeks with Carol, not only do I attempt to emulate her and channel her patience and calm in times of chaos, but I trust her word 100%.
Tomorrow, Monica will head back to the US and Carol and I plan to fly to Kenya. We hope for safe travels, good luck and we look forward to many more "wow" moments along the way!!
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
The PINCC team from the US- Carol, Dr.Melissa, Debra, Reid, Shelby, Dr.Amy, Dr.Katie, Dr.Christina and Monica- arrived safely, Carol holding a sign & awaiting our arrival as we passed through customs & finally exhaled.
Dr.Melissa's bag was lost en route, deciding to take a side trip to either Atlanta or Paris- but will hopefully be found & arrive tomorrow. Thank goodness Dr.Melissa's daughter, Shelby, is here for mother-daughter clothes sharing!
Daily DEET, nightly romantic mosquito nets, Carol's stock in bottled water and Carol's ban on fresh vegetables has kept us all relatively healthy:)
Daily adventures include Debra, Reid & Shelby all getting locked in the bathroom! Carol & Amy's adventure to find an "aspirador petite" and delicious adventures with Cameroonian cuisine- fried fish, meat stews, fried chicken, (we've all given up on vegetarianism) Irish potatoes! pizza! pancakes!
The Cameroonian participants are wonderful, motivated, smart & learning quickly. Today we did 41 exams and a patient even danced out of the clinic room after her VIA exam was "adequate" and "negative"!!
We are off to a good start in Cameroon, many smiles on all our faces:))