UMD Making a Sustainable Impact: Training Health Workers in Sierra Leone’s Calaba Town
The mood was tense. Community members from Calaba Town, a peri-urban village on the Western coast 20km outside of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, were cross. They expected that UMD students with Public Health without Borders (PHWB) were going to build and staff a community health clinic. Clearly there is a need. With no paved roads or running water, an illness or injury in this town can lead to permanent disability or death. Complications in childbirth contribute to the country’s high rate of maternal and neonatal mortality, which according to 2018 statistics is 1,360 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The U.S., which has the worst rate among developed countries, is 20.7 per 100,000 live births. It is 23.5 in Maryland.
The UMD Public Health without Borders team has traveled to Calaba Town four times since 2014. They led workshops with children and adults focusing on hygiene, first aid, chronic diseases, water sanitation, nutrition, and Ebola. Much of the PHWB work occurs at the Abigail D. Butscher School in Calaba Town, which was founded through the Madieu Williams Foundation. Madieu Williams is an alum of the University of Maryland and former football player for the Terps, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Redskins.
The Madieu Williams Foundation focused on children’s education, and used funds to support the creation of and continued staffing of a school. The Butscher School now thrives with over 200 students, a stable teaching and administrative staff, and electricity through solar panels has been on education of children. It is unclear why community members also thought a clinic would be created. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding because there is such a need and the Foundation and PHWB has already show great commitment to helping this community.
How could they temper the expectations of irate community members, who had hopes well beyond the provision workshops over a two-week period?
“In this tense situation, I knew we had to offer practical solutions,” thought Dr. Dina Borzekowski, behavioral and community health research professor and Interim Director of the Global Health Initiative. “We needed to do what I call ‘applied health advocacy.’”
Dr. Borzekowski encouraged a follow-up meeting, after everyone had a chance to calm down, prioritize needs and determine sustainable goals. PHWB students asked the Calaba Town community members to prioritize their needs. Someone suggested that volunteers from the community be trained to help their neighbors. This was a popular idea.
The PHWB students researched the logistics. It would cost 10,000,000 leones (US $1,170) to train five women over a three-week period in the nearby Allen Town Community Health Center. The women will receive appropriate and relevant education, including how to provide pre- and post-natal care, help with childbirths, detect and care for people suffering from illnesses such as malaria, and offer first aid for broken bones and abrasions. They will be certified as health care workers upon completion of the course.
Mr. Tholley, the vice principal of the Abigail D. Butscher School in Calaba Town, said through WhatsApp “This will help the town and the school. The women will learn and it will be a continual process.”
Ugochi Chinemere, a UMD senior on the PHWB team reflected “After a spirited conversation with the Calaba Town residents about their need for a health clinic, we were eager to support their goals. That’s why we think this fundraiser is so important.”
The PHWB students are raising funds to not only pay for the educational and transportation fees involved to get the women trained, but also to purchase supplies needed for the women to be successful community health workers, such as much needed sterile bandages and basic medications including hydrocortisone cream, anti-diarrheal pills, and acetaminophen. To raise money, the group will offer dance classes and workshops in College Park - teaching West African moves. The PHWB group are also accepting directed donations through Venmo.
“I am so thrilled that our Maryland students and the Calaba Town community members have come up with a viable and sustainable solution together,” said Dr. Borzekowski.