This post was written by Mali Health Board Chair Dr. Joe Camardo, after his recent visit to Mali.
At 8AM I walked out of the NIH guest house at Point G, which is settled on a hill above Bamako, into the heat of the Malian morning. The terrace provides a view of Bamako on the plain below; what a place. Just flat and sprawling as far as I can see, and from here it is just quiet. But, five minutes in the car and one joins the crowd of commuters. Cars, motorbikes, sotramas, pedestrians; courtesy and good judgement orchestrate this constant flow of movement, since there are few traffic lights. Bamako is rich in spirit and like Mandé music it seems to have a rhythm and a story.
So, we (Samba my driver and I) cross the town and arrive at the Mali Health office. This starts a week that allows me to see our team, the families we serve, and our health center partners. It also includes visits to some of the government officers who are tasked with the vision to lead the country to a place where the spirit of the people is matched by the services and material goods all of us have come to expect.
One of our concerns about Mali Health is whether we can convey to our supporters how much of a difference they make in a place so distant, so different, and somewhat obscure, not usually the subject of news stories, except for bad news. But there is some good news:
At CSCom SISSOU, our very first partner health center in Sikoro, there is much activity. They follow our quality improvement protocols and have improved their system for payment, their labs, their water and sanitation. In May, they delivered 100 babies. The team is motivated and they’re responding to an influx of new residents in the Sikoro area. The community health workers in Sikoro/Sourakabougou visit families on a planned schedule, with specific objectives. The health center is raising money to improve the laboratory so it can be certified for additional testing services.
In Sotuba, our community health worker spent over an hour with mothers explaining vaccination, malaria, handwashing, and other simple but important ways to keep their infants and toddlers healthy. They spent a long time in discussions and banter in a combination of French and Bambara (and some arguing with more vocal of the community). The women are illiterate. Since we cannot just provide information in writing, the discussion is one of the few ways to make an impact.
In Lafiabougou, I attended a quality improvement session (in French and Bambara with simultaneous translation by Mariam. Note to self: learn French before next visit). It was great discussion about vaccinations: why are families with newborns missing some of the later doses, how should we make sure the mothers know when to return, how do we make it easy for them to get back to the health center. Another lively discussion including the head physician, the sagefemme (midwife), and the staff of the health center, along with our quality improvement coaches.
In Sibiribougou, I met with a savings group. Of course, this is an opportunity to provide information to mothers. I noticed it’s also a chance to see the babies; though not a real pediatrician visit, even an out-of-practice doctor can see if the baby is thriving or not. This is a great event, lots of laughter, but also serious accountability for the contributions and their use. I contributed a very worn-out 1000 CFA note (about 2 dollars), which generated some applause and laughter and I suppose allows me the privilege of a loan if I need it. I find these sessions to be inspiring; it’s not just the money, (that is important) but it is the sense that these mothers really help each other. It is one of the activities that mothers manage themselves; our animateurs make sure they get together, but the mothers run the show.
This visit we took the opportunity to visit the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women, Children, and Families. We also reminded them of our status as an INGO, recently granted. Though we are a US nonprofit organization, we are incorporated as an international NGO in Mali, under Mariam’s leadership. We visited the Minister of Defense, Honorable Tiene Coulibaly, who is a friend of Mali Health from his time as Mali’s Ambassador to the US. Though a courtesy visit, it was a reminder that one obstacle to progress in Mali is the continued threats to peace in the North, and in the Dogon region. All I could say was that, having visited Mali now three times, that I wish him the best of luck in the job, and told him that for sure the people of Mali deserve peace.