In Zambia, only 650 doctors were working between 2000-2010. That's less than one doctor for every 10,000 people in the country.
To help meet this critical shortage, World Medical Mission partners with Christian hospitals in Zambia to place volunteer doctors for short-term stints, as well as those serving through our Post-Residency Program.
We will introduce you to three of those physicians.
More are needed.
“Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (Luke 10:2, NKJV).
Mukinge was founded over 60 years ago and currently services some 100,000 people in the Northwestern Province. At any given time, 95 percent of the beds in this 210-bed referral facility are occupied.
For some patients, it is a one- or two-day journey to the hospital. Relatives may bring them by vehicle, by bicycle, or most commonly, on foot. While their loved one is in the hospital, family members stay in an unfurnished, concrete barracks at the edge of the medical complex. They bring food to cook their own meals. During the day they sit at the patient's bedside. Mostly they wait. And they pray.
Outside the clinic doors, the line of patients waiting to see a doctor grows steadily. Anywhere from 150 to 200 people per day show up. They may keep their place in line all day—without complaint. Those who don’t see a doctor today will probably be back tomorrow.
The nursing school students greet the patients every weekday morning with a round of gospel hymns in the local Kikaonde language. If the patients feel up to it, they clap and sing along too. Zambians love to sing, and they do it with gusto. In joy or in sorrow, they sing.
Vincent received treatment at Mukinge for severe burns to his right arm and leg. A boy had died of unknown causes in his village, and Vincent was accused of placing a death curse on the child. Men in the village set his home ablaze one night while he and his wife were inside.
Fortunately, both of them were able to escape, but Vincent’s injuries required skin grafts and weeks of hospitalization. During his recovery, Zambian chaplains visited and prayed with him. They shared the Good News of Jesus’ love and encouraged him to read God’s Word. One of the chaplains reported that Vincent later prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior. The staff hope he will be accepted back into his village and that he will lead others to Christ.
We read stories of how leprosy plagued people in the Old and New Testaments, and now in the 21st century the disease remains a scourge in parts of Africa and Asia. Chinasa came from a nearby leper colony to seek medical attention. She has already lost a leg and fingers. Eventually the disease will claim her life too.
Even in the midst of their suffering, patients enthusiastically express appreciation and thanks to the doctors for their loving care.
Of the 17 young patients in Pediatric #2 ward, five have been admitted due to malnutrition. These children offer suffer from complications of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis too.
Doctors caring for patients in the male and female wards treat anything from broken bones and congestive heart failure to typhoid and Burkitts lymphoma.
But the greatest plague is malaria. When rainy season returns, so will the overflow of patients battling the illness. Three million cases were reported in 2009 alone. Despite the government's efforts to distribute mosquito nets, malaria continues to steal lives.
Ask any missionary doctor what's hardest about the job. It's not the 2 a.m. summons from sleep to perform an emergency surgery. Sure, that's difficult. But those challenges don't compare to the anguish of losing patients simply because the appropriate medication or sophisticated equipment is unavailable.
Frustration sometimes turns to tears and begs the age-old question: "Why, God?"
The neonatal unit bustles with activity as mothers and doctors take turns caring for preemies. “This is where our angels are,” says Dr. Daren Tompkins, a family medicine physician who did his residency training in Kansas.
One newborn was delivered without a heartbeat. The doctors successfully resuscitated the tiny girl, but now she is suffering seizures due to a lack of oxygen to her brain when she was born.
Beatrice, a teenager with sickle cell anemia, had her baby at 34 weeks. Both mother and son are getting stronger each day.
We asked Beatrice what she named her infant.
“Bibusa,” she answered proudly.
Dr. Tompkins' only medical attire is the stethoscope he wears around his neck. Forget the white coat.
“It’s too hot for that here in Zambia,” he says.
Tompkins first came to Mukinge in 2006 on a short-term mission trip with World Medical Mission. He and wife Elissa felt God directing them toward long-term service in missionary medicine, so they investigated places that would be child-friendly. At the time the couple had boys who were four months and two years old.
Their family later signed up for a two-year assignment at Mukinge through World Medical Mission’s Post-Residency Program. The experience was such a wonderful blessing that they decided to stay.
“There is a great work going on here, and we felt that God had invited us to be a part of it,” he said.
Now the couple are raising five children on the mission field: Zach, 12; Nate, 10; Emelyn, 8; Drew, 6; and Ethan, 18 months.
“There are a lot of things that we love about raising our children here. They can go outside and play and climb trees and enjoy freedom,” said Tompkins. “It’s a great childhood for them. They have a lot of friends, a lot of fun, and they are seeing a different part of the world.”
“I had no plans to be a doctor. I was interested in being a veterinarian.”
After graduating from high school, Missy Sandberg went on a mission trip to Haiti with her church youth group. Seeing malnourished children in an orphanage broke her heart and changed her life.
“I was holding a couple of children in my lap and thinking, ‘God, this isn’t fair. Somebody has to fix this problem.’ That’s when God told me he wanted me to be a doctor—in Africa.”
During her medical training, Sandberg went on short-term trips with World Medical Mission to Kenya and Papua New Guinea. In 2011, World Medical Mission sent her to Mukinge Hospital for a few months. She fell in love with Zambia and came back to stay in December 2013.
“I plan to be at Mukinge as long as Mukinge needs me,” said Sandberg. “I like the variety of work I do here. I think I would be bored at a hospital in the United States.”
American poet Robert Frost wrote: “Good fences make good neighbors.” The opposite holds true in Zambia. The Tompkins’ fenced-in yard is for the dog, not the children. Community means everything at Mukinge—both inside and outside the walls of the hospital.
“It gives me hope to know there are people here who care about me and love me,” said Windson, one of the hospital patients.
What immediately catches the eye of a first-time visitor to Chitokoloki Hospital is the river. “Chitokoloki” means “the place of sparkling water,” an apt description at mid-day when sunlight dances across the surface of the Zambezi. In the evening, crimson sunsets take center stage, casting a fiery glow on the river.
But the mighty Zambezi is as dangerous as it is beautiful. Lurking along the shore are crocodiles, poisonous snakes, and menacing hippos who attack anything brazen enough to tread into their territory.
“We tell people this isn’t the end of the world, but if you go another five kilometers, you drop off the planet,” chuckles Gordon Hanna, Chitokoloki’s hospital administrator.
In 1985, Gordon and Ruth Hanna spent six weeks in Zambia and saw Chitokoloki Hospital for the first time. They returned to Canada with changed hearts. The following year, the couple moved to Chitokoloki and have made the mission station their home ever since.
Heartbreaking news for the doctors starting today’s morning rounds—a toddler who was brought to the hospital three weeks ago with severe burns died overnight. She was one of several children to have been hospitalized recently at Chitokoloki for burns. Open kitchen fires are often the culprit.
Seven-year-old Anna was warming herself by the fire at her family’s house. She stood too close and her dress caught on fire, causing third degree burns over a quarter of her body.
Anna had been at Chitokoloki for five weeks when Dr. Kevin Kerrigan, a surgeon, and his wife, Leslie, a nurse, traveled from Spokane, Washington, to Zambia on a short-term trip with World Medical Mission. Dr. Kerrigan brought a dermatome machine with him to do skin grafts on the little girl.
“Anytime you have burns that cross the joints, there is risk of forming contractures,” explains Kerrigan. “We try to cover the joint surfaces first with the new skin so people can begin using those joints and we can keep scar tissue from forming.
The graft taken from Anna’s back will be the first of a series of procedures that she will probably undergo. Recovery will be slow, but she will make it.
Patrick is going to be OK too. He had an epileptic seizure and fell into the cooking fire at his home. His right hand was so severely burned that it had to be amputated. His left hand was also badly injured, and that’s why the pediatric staff are encouraging Patrick to keep exercising it.
Ruth Hanna and Leslie Kerrigan were going through a box of donated supplies in the hospital’s storage building when they made an exciting discovery. Sitting on top of a box of clothes was a child’s magnetic drawing board. Immediately they thought of Patrick.
The easel was an answer to prayers, helping Patrick occupy his mind—and most importantly his hand—during long, monotonous days in his hospital bed. Perhaps he will grow up to be a famous artist in Zambia.
World Medical Mission physicians are focused on bringing the Good News to patients in wherever they serve.
“As Christian physicians, we want to give our patients the best possible care, but we also want to comfort and encourage them,” says Dr. Tompkins. “We want them to go back home knowing Jesus Christ as their Savior.”
Those new believers need encouragement and Christian fellowship. Hospital chaplains will sometimes contact church leaders in a former patient’s village to get them plugged into a local congregation.
The World Medical Mission healthcare professionals who serve overseas see their faith in Christ grow too.
“You have a sense that you are making a difference in people’s lives. There’s no substitute for that,” Dr. Kerrigan said in summing up his years of missionary service.
“When you are serving God by serving people too, it fulfills you spiritually. Even when the work is difficult, those are just opportunities to trust God more.”