20 December 2010

UNC Project in Malawi

Jane Arnold and I went on a 4-day excursion to Lilongwe, Malawi to visit Jo Anne Earp, my former HBHE Professor and long time mentor who came to Malawi with her husband Shelley Earp, Director of UNC Lineberger Cancer Center.  They and Jane and I wanted to see the UNC Project which is working on a malaria vaccine trial, AIDS treatment and prevention research, clinical care and has a fabulous training program for local health workers.
Jane Arnold, Shelley Earp, Jo Anne Earp and me

Malawi is about the size of Pennsylvania and has roughly15 million people, 260,000 of them living in the capital, Lilongwe.  It is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world and HIV/AIDS has taken its toll on the population.

The first thing we did in the city was venture out to the market which is almost hidden behind the buildings on the street.  There you can buy everything from vegetables and chickens to car parts and colorful chitenge cloth which most women wear over their skirts and on their heads.

Live chickens for sale

The exchange rate is around 170 Malawian Kwacha to one dollar - so the math - at least for me - was not easy.  Jane got a Fanta in a small cafe that cost 200 kwacha.  That was the restaurant price - it would probably be closer to 50 kwacha in the Shop Rite store.

That first night we had drinks at Heuglin's Lodge, a lovely guest house where we stayed, before heading off to a traditional dinner at the home of Mina Hosseinipour, Clinical Director for the UNC Project in Malawi.  No pictures of the food but we had the staple maize porridge (called nsima), fish, beans, creamed spinach and meat.
UNC Project Leadershship (L-R): Dr. Francis Martinson, Country Director, Dr. Mina Hosseinipour, Clinical Director, Innocent Molofo, Administrative Manager and Arthur Sungitsa, Finance Manager

The next morning we were escorted by 2 health outreach workers who took us to Bwaila Hospital where there is a big antenatal clinic and HIV PMTCT program (prevention of mother-to-child transmission).  We walked in to a room full of women singing and clapping to call-and-response songs led by a nurse educator.  It was unlike any group antenatal education session I've ever experienced!

The singing reinforced the health education messages about the importance of family planning, spacing children and of getting tested for HIV along with one's partner.  All the women in the audience had babies with them who would immunized that day.  Women who had not been HIV tested, could be tested as well - and those who brought their partners with them for testing were able to jump the cue and be seen first.  Getting tested is a vital componant to the PMTCT program.  Anti-retroviral drugs for those who are HIV positive are free and provided by the government.

After the education session was over we toured the Maternity Clinic.

Esmie Kamanga, Program Officer for PMTCT, Jane, a maternity nurse and one of the UNC Project field workers

Delivery room

They kept great monthly statistics on birth outcomes.  They have on average 50 births a day and a low c-section rate of about 10%. 

Then we headed out with the field workers to do a home visit for a child in the Malaria Vaccine Trial.  The  Trial is in phase III and being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.  The drug comes from GlaxoSmithKline.

Then we were taken to the Dzama Orphan Care and School, another UNC Project site.  The School offers AIDS orphans nursery and primary education and a hot meal every day.

When we walked into the classroom the children were singing a welcome song and then proceeded to sing other songs they knew in English including my favorite and yours, "Twinkle twinkle little star" and the "ABCs" song. One by one the children came to the front of the classroom and introduced themselves in English, which they were all learning in school.

Jane read them a story book and they lit up!

The area around Dzama had no running water - so several years ago Carolina Friends School donated the money to build a well.  It is truly a small world.

I could pump, but there's no way I could carry the water on my head.  It is amazing how strong the women are.

The next day we said goodbye to the Earps who were leaving to go on safari in the Serengetti.

Jane and I headed off to Senga Bay at Lake Malawi.  We drove through beautiful countryside along the way.

We passed many things including a man selling a live chicken along the side of the road.

We reached the Livingstonia Beach hotel on Lake Malawi.  It is a very big lake.  We couldn't see across the lake, but to the north you could see the mountains of Mozambique.

The next day we took off through the small town of Salima heading to the airport.  Our driver caught some "chombo" (tilapia) in the lake and drove with them tied up outside his car (Jane and I were grateful they were outside!).

Salima is a town somewhat catering to the tourist industry that is heading to the lake.  There are many small roadside shops, but fishing and farming are the most common ways of making a living.  While driving I couldn't help but notice all the people walking barefoot along the road or wearing only thongs for shoes.  There is a thriving bicycle taxi industry run by entrepreneurial bike owners because people walk such great distances.  We were told that bicycles cost around 15,000 kwacha (around $90) - way beyond most people's budgets.

We also passed government workers making new lane divider lines on the road -- hand painting the lines.

While it was a short trip, it was so worthwhile to see the UNC Project and visit a new country.  And great to spend time with the Earps on the first leg of their Africa adventure.  A big "zikoma" to our hosts.

20 July 2010

Khama Rhino Sanctuary

It is Presidents Day weekend, so 5 of us took a trip to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Serowe, Botswana.  It was a 3 hour drive and we stayed at a nice and simple lodge, Masama Lodge, outside of the City.

To get to the Rhino Sanctuary, you drive through the town of Serowe, which is home to the founding President, Sir Seretse Khama.  There are many roadside shops along the way. This one is my favorite (in case you're in need of a tire puncture).
The Rhino Sanctuary was started in 1992 to help protect the endangered rhinos from poachers who sell the horns on the black market. The Rhino population varies as they send rhinos raised in the park back out into Botswana and surrounding game preserves.  This weekend there were about 33 white and black rhinos and we saw half of them, which was very lucky!  We came upon about a dozen at a watering hole at sunset.  Very surprisingly, everyone there was outside their truck and the rhinos didn't notice us at all.
There was a lot of other cool wildlife.

The zebra rolling in the sand is leaving his scent (and probably having fun too).


Yellow Billed Hornbill

As we were leaving the park we ran into the largest male rhino "Dan."  He just sauntered across the road in front of us.

Abigail, Greg, Nita, Dumi and me

Nita and me

That night we had a fire and braai under the stars.
The next day we did a rather unremarkable second game drive and appreciated all that we saw on the first day.  So we went back to our lodge which had some scenic rocks we climbed up.
Then time to go home until the next adventure.

26 June 2010

World Cup in Johannesburg

Last weekend we went to the World Cup for the USA vs Slovenia game.  It was my first time in Jo'burg and I must admit that it was my first time to a professional soccer game.  You could feel the World Cup fever the moment you entered the city.  Shirts, hats, vuvuzelas and flags of every nation were being sold on the street (and in the road!).

I was very surprised at how cold it was.  It is winter here now and in Gaborone it gets down to the mid 30's (single digits in celsius) mornings and nights, but daytime temperatures are in the 70's F (low 20's C).  Athough it is only about 4 hours away (if you don't get lost), Johannesburg was significantly colder.  Our warmest day was 55F (13C) and it was below freezing at night. Many people have unheated houses and apartments and that has to be really tough. 

OK on to the game.  We had seats 4 rows from the top of the 64,000 seat stadium at Ellis Park.  It was a very steep decline and difficult to look down without panicing.  But of course you have to look down or you miss the game!

The game tied 2-2, although in the final minutes the US made a third goal that was not counted on some technicality.  I have since heard on all the sports networks that the US should have won the game. 

So what about those vuvuzela noise-makers you have heard so much about? 


Those vuvuzelas were of big concern to me before I went and I wanted them banned along with most of the international media and a lot of fans (but mostly foreigners).  In the end I made peace with them (a.k.a. EARPLUGS) and it turned out not to be a problem at all! The whole controversy about banninng them because they are so incredibly loud was a tough call because the vuvuzelas are a South African tradition at sporting events.  It would have been quite an affront to ban them. All I can say is that I'm glad I had good earplugs.

The fans were mostly rooting for the US team which made it really fun for us.
Dumi's boys, Tino and Zviko, were visiting and it was great watching the game with them and celebrating Zviko's 11th birthday. 

Tonight is the USA vs Ghana game.  I'll be watching in front of a warm, noise-controlled TV!!