ECU Field Journal: Africa

Marie's Blog from Lambaréné, Gabon<-- back

Here comes the PMI team!
October 17, 2008

Beep! Beep! As we enter each village, the Schweitzer truck signals its arrival, prompting every mother and child to head to the Dispensaire, the designated clinic area. In each village, the Gabonese government has built either a cement building or open courtyard where inhabitants may seek medical care from the resident nurse, or in our case, with the PMI team. The Protection Maternelle-Infantile program reaches out to provide childhood vaccinations, nutrition and obstetrical screenings, and acute care medical evaluations for anyone in the surrounding villages. Each village is visited once every six weeks according to a rotating schedule. I have mentioned this program with affection in previous posts as I thoroughly enjoy my time in these villages. I learn the most about life and culture in Gabon here through the PMI program, and it helps me to better connect with my patients back at the hospital by seeing where they live and work. My experience would not be what it has been without this program and the dedicated souls who have run it since its inception 10 years ago. The PMI team consists of Dr. Diallo, and nurses Sophie (whom everyone affectionately calls Mama Sophie), Marie Benoit, and Hortense. They are absolutely phenomenal both as individuals and in the work they do helping so many new mothers and children.

When our truck pulls into the village, the mothers begin undressing their babies to prepare them for their exams. The babies cry at the mere sight of us, for they remember who we are and what we do. We immediately unload our supplies and set up our scales to start weighing children. At the weight station, each mother presents us with her baby and the child’s medical carnet, a booklet in which all medical encounters and vaccinations are recorded from birth through adolescence. We record each child’s weight and note this information on his or her growth curve. Then, after consulting the child’s carnet, we determine which vaccinations we need to give and assign any needed nutrition and/or medical consultations.

Once all children are weighed, we gather them and their mothers in a group to listen to the health education topic for that visit. Topics include lessons on food- and water-borne parasites, HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections, prenatal care, breastfeeding, and nutrition. All this information is displayed on a presentation board with pictures, so that no matter the literacy level of the audience everyone can understand. During the presentation we often yell, “All the mamas, say O-YAY!” They enthusiastically reply with a volume that gives you chills and makes you smile at this unique fellowship. The PMI team gives their shout outs as well, and we Schweitzer Fellows love to shout this “O-YAY!” now.

After the lesson is over, the vaccinations and consultations begin. The children are most disturbed by this part of the day, hence the tears at the mere sight of us. Who likes shots anyway?! I really wish I could administer vaccinations without the children crying. I can only imagine what they think of me when their mother sits down and starts to hold them tightly. Not only must the color of my skin and clothes frighten them, but also the fact that I am coming at them with a needle!

At the end of the day, we pack up our equipment and head back to Schweitzer. There are always lots of children and mothers to see so we are tired from the long day, but glad to have been there. The PMI program is often the only source of health care for many mothers in villages far from the hospital. In the ten years the program has served the surrounding area, countless lives have been saved thanks to the vaccinations and health education. Efforts like these remind us that Dr. Schweitzer’s spirit lives on.