It has been two months now! Yes, Two months! Over the past two weeks, I have focused on writing and designing the layout for country-level reports on the Status of Implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) for two countries-Madagascar and Lesotho. While writing the report for Madagascar, I observed that the tax on the most widely sold brand of tobacco is 76%. “Impressive”, I thought, given the difficulties and politics involved in the implementation of such tax policy. Upon inquiry, I learnt that Madagascar has the best practice in Africa. Madagascar also has health warnings on tobacco labeling and packaging covering more than 50% of the package and labels. The issue of health warnings reminded me of the events in the US where the implementation of graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging and labels were ruled as unconstitutional by the courts. I hope tobacco advocacy groups continue to fight for the adoption of such policies. Policies recommended by the FCTC has been shown to reduce tobacco consumption and in turn, premature mortality from tobacco use.
My first week here in Riobamba, Ecuador has been fantastic. In the mornings I attend rounds in the pediatric hospital with residents and attendings. Rounds are a lot like in Nashville except that x-rays are read by holding films up to the light and, of course, everything is in Spanish. Also, an epidemiologist joins us, and sometimes a dentist, though they rarely contribute to the discussion. It is amazing what an international language medicine is. Even with my limited Spanish skills I can follow, and occasionally contribute to, rounds with relative ease.
Over the past two weeks, I have continued to work on the research paper on the status of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) supply strategies in the African Region as reported by the Parties to the Convention. My plans to have the first event of the employee community service program in March have been stalled. We also had an unfortunate incident in Brazzaville on the 5th of March. A fire started at a military arms depot and set off a series of explosions killing more than 150 people and leaving thousands displaced. This sad event was felt at the office as many workers lost their homes. As a result, things were a bit slow at the office this week. The event has been postponed to April to allow time for things to settle back down.
Brazzaville!!!!I can’t believe I am finally here! After weeks and months of applications and planning and finally a twenty-two hour journey from Johnson City in Tennessee, I have arrived and I am ready to do some public health. Driving into town from the airport, the driver with the World Health Organization, the Organization with whom I would be working with during my three month stay, showed some of the remarkable places in town.
In my third week at Karapitiya Hospital I was introduced to Dr. Kumara, senior lecturer in Surgery. Participating in various surgical cases was what I was most looking forward to on my rotation in Sri Lanka. Walking into the OT I noticed it was quite a different set up from the operating rooms back in the states. Patients were lined up on a bench right outside of the open theater doors with their medical chart in hand.
Death and dying are never easy to deal with as a physician. However, that process is different in Africa. Morbidity and mortality are more commonplace and seem to be accepted. Religion is pervasive in all aspects of healthcare: the Wednesday morning chapel service, the preoperative prayers, and the prayers after meetings.
In my third week at Karapitiya Hospital I was introduced to Dr. Kumara, senior lecturer in Surgery. Participating in various surgical cases was what I was most looking forward to on my rotation in Sri Lanka. Walking into the OT I noticed it was quite a different set up from the operating rooms back in the states. Patients were lined up on a bench right outside of the open theater doors with their medical chart in hand. Some patients were even curious enough to stand and watch the ongoing procedures from the doorway. On the other side of the patient bench was a make-shift PACU where the post-operative patients were still coming out of their anesthesia. Inside the operating theater, there were multiple procedures going on at the same time. In one corner of the room, a woman was having a lumpectomy under local anesthesia. In the center of the room, a man was under general anesthesia having an open cholecystectomy. Finally, off to the side of the room a woman was getting a carpal tunnel release.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Mahamodara Maternity Hospital. The tuk tuk dropped us off outside of what appeared to be fortress walls. We were met by our Duke coordinator and led through the gate, past a building that was in disrepair and dilapidated. We traversed through a labyrinth of crumbling plaster and boarded up windows. There was a smell of mildew lingering in the air. I thought to myself, “Women come here to give birth”? Once we rounded a corner, I noticed an area to my right which looked as if it should have been full of expectant women, but was eerily vacant. It was then I realized what I was seeing was the shell of the Mahamodara which stood during the 2004 tsunami. I stared into the ward, and could imagine this area full of pregnant women and newborns on that day, and could almost feel their terror. I was told the hospital was hit by 3 waves. The first wave destroyed the “fortress” walls that I had seen earlier, but these barriers had lessened the impact to the building. It flooded the first level and knocked out the electricity. The doctors and staff evacuated the mothers and infants, some to higher ground, and others to Karapitiya Hospital. The second wave was estimated between 20-30 feet high. There are many stories of heroic men and women from that day, including one physician who calmly completed a Cesarean section by flashlight after the first wave hit. He then safely evacuated the mother and child. Due to lack of funds to demolish the building, it now stands as a temporary memorial.
We arrived on the pediatrics ward this Monday, a little less naive and much less shell-shocked. I had grown accustomed to hearing only the whirring of ceiling fans, barking dogs, and the quiet chatter of Sinhalese in place of the traditional mind-numbing beeps and alarms of our medical equipment. I was pleased to see protective screening over the open air hallways, to keep the children from tumbling two stories, and to keep out the birds. It was surprising to see the number of children waiting to be evaluated for possible admission. Nearly all the beds were full, and it seemed as though they were in the habit of converting previous storage closets, consultant lounges, and any available space into treatment areas. The need for even more space remains evident.

Subscribe to our newsletter to recieve the latest updates.