A 15-year-old girl arrived at Machame Hospital in Tanzania with a broken arm. An easy fix in the U.S., but not in Africa.
There, locals treat bone breaks by wrapping a wet animal skin around the fracture. It hardened around the teenager's arm like it was supposed to, a makeshift cast. But the local remedy worked too well. It continued to tighten, cutting off circulation and causing gangrene.
The infection forced her doctor to amputate, but it could have been worse. Without Machame Hospital, she would have died from the gangrene poison.
Machame is one part of Alegent Health's outreach program in Tanzania, Africa. Alegent trains medical staff, builds new facilities, updates medical equipment and provides nursing scholarships.
A trip to Tanzania 10 years ago inspired the outreach project. Bob Kasworm, operations leader of Alegent's efforts in Tanzania, first landed in the Mount Kilimanjaro region in 2001 to assess the country's health care landscape. He found that the people were in desperate need of a better health care system. Things seemed in disrepair, dirty and old-fashioned. In the area's version of an intensive care unit, there were no monitors, no respiratory machines, “nothing that, in our mind, would make it an intensive care unit,” Kasworm said.
Alegent's presence in the country was limited at first. It contributed surplus goods like screws, plates, bone chisels and gloves. As its Nebraska facilities acquired the latest equipment, it donated the previous models – still decades newer than what already existed in Tanzania – to Machame Hospital.
Alegent also funded a teaching facility and a new orthopedic surgery center, which had its first operation in April of 2008. It's equipped to handle standard bone breaks as well as more complicated procedures.
Hospital staff noticed patients returning to the hospital shortly after treatment because unsanitary conditions at their homes interfered with recovery. This led to “Homes for Health,” a project that replaces ill-built houses with more sanitary ones. Local laborers have built around 50 homes to date. They are basic but functional and clean.
“A very little can do a lot there,” said Kasworm, who oversees that project, too.
Alegent also raises money to sponsor nursing students in Tanzania. Jane Carmody, the chief nursing executive at Alegent Health, and a group of local health professionals raised enough money last year to sponsor nine nursing students in the impoverished African country.
There, nurses earn $300 a month. This wage is tens of thousands less than a nurse's salary in the U.S., but in Tanzania, it's one of the highest.
“A society can be no more productive than to educate its women,” Carmody said, quoting Catherine McAuley, a Catholic saint whom an Alegent building is named for.
Within a few weeks, she collected more than $9,000. Tracy Lynne Meyers, a neonatal nurse at Bergan Mercy Medical Center in Omaha, contributed enough to fund one scholarship on her own.
“When the opportunity came up to sponsor a student, I thought, ‘What a beautiful way to continue to do what I'm called to do,'” she said.
Alegent continues to raise funds for nursing scholarships. The hospital will also maintain a presence in the country through for at least the next four years.
“We can't fix Africa,” Kasworm said. “We can just do what we can do.”
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