February 2023 Visit to Buccama

In October 2022, we had a catch up visit to our much beloved Buccama clinic , a nine bone shaking hours drive to Southern Ethiopia, after a 2 ½ year gap, because of Covid and political unrest in Europe and Ethiopia.  Despite all these difficulties EMP has not stood still, and I am just back after a nearly month long visit this past February. 

Thanks to a generous and anonymous donation, we have been able to build an impressive Podoconiosis Shelter and treatment centre. This building has been named St James’ Podoconiosis Clinic. There, the poorest of the poor come to have their diseased feet cared for, and where they are also taught the very simple protocol of foot care and protection. We emphasise five key points:

  • Soak
  • Scrub with soap
  • Massage and movement
  • Socks
  • Shoes

We are aware that nightly compression and elevated legs will also speed up the reversal of the illness, and so we are conducting research with a small number of patients – by measuring the swollen legs weekly, and teaching them to apply the compression bandages at night.

How I wish that many more people could see and hear the people, who are benefiting from this treatment. It is so very humbling, but the best thing is the obvious improvement in the majority of the feet. Indeed we had a sort of graduation ceremony where men and women paid tribute to the system, and told their stories of improvement. They have also become their own teachers which is hugely gratifying for us. It was great fun delivering the hundreds of socks donated by our friends and family in Kinross and Glasgow. Every pair was distributed and gratefully received. As an aside, I think that the ‘graduates’ will miss their treatment as there is a sort of “Spa” element to it all. 50 people at a time sit quietly chatting whilst their feet soak!

The majority of patients simply come and go, but there are always a few who need treatment for wounds, fungal infections or chronically swollen legs. There is ongoing need for soap, disinfectant, massage cream ,socks and shoes, and so we are seeking another funding stream for these necessary provisions. This is not even considering the need for the washing area to be cleaned and sanitised after every session, plus the staff dedicated to the care of the patients.

          One of the main purposes of this last visit was to deliver the funds for and oversee the completion of the Podoconiosis Clinic. This has been achieved but it has felt quite pressured. We wanted the building to have more than one purpose and that too has been achieved.

Now we have treatment rooms for both Podo patients and Uterine Vaginal Prolapse (UVP) Mothers. We have secured funding from Festival Medical Services for the women to be medically cared for, whilst they await their surgical repair. This is a fantastic contribution, as we at EMP have to concentrate on fundraising for the continuous payment of salaries.

          As the Podo building is now completed, we feel free to embark on the construction of a new Labour Suite. The present one is adequate but dark and cramped, and rapidly becoming unfit for purpose. We have two exceedingly professional young male midwives, who are part of the planning process along with senior management. The old building will then be repurposed for antenatal treatment and social gatherings.

Our time here is not all work although the work is hard.

By our standards the weather is beautiful although the farmers all long for rain. Maureen’s nephew accompanied us this time and he lived and worked among the younger members of staff.  He is a qualified doctor with some time to spare. His skill and expertise were invaluable during the busy clinics, but also has a great love of sport. There have been massive football matches and long runs through the country side. The distribution of football strips and caps has been a highlight.

          As ever we have seen babies born and heartbreaking scenarios of abject poverty and despair. Our ability to complain about anything in our lives is once again reduced to a pipsqueak. Our saddest moment came on our last but one day. The electricity this year seems to have been very poor and when it comes back it surges, causing problems with computers and fridges etc. On this sad day a power surge caused a fire within one of the family houses. Of course there is no 999, no Fire Brigade and no water hydrants. The house with its dry walls and wooden and tin roof was completely gutted. What a sight is was to see an old, newly widowed, gentleman sitting outside the wreck of his home whilst friends and neighbours tried with small water containers to rescue something, anything of his possessions. As family members arrived, the level of high wailing escalated. It was an extraordinary and humbling scene to witness.

          I have to be honest, there are moments of high hilarity and never more at my attempts at the Amharic language. One of the nuns kindly told me that it was like listening to a baby learning to speak, one word at a time. Still I believe it’s good for my old brain, so I shall continue. Also it gives them great pleasure to dress us up in their festive clothes, while they stay in their normal kit. We do anything to please!

Then as ever comes the tortuous drive back to Addis Ababa and the long haul back to Scotland, to another world, our world of plenty, even if it doesn’t seem that way.

Long may we be strong enough and resilient enough to carry on our connection with our many friends in The Buccama Health Centre.

                                                            JO MIDDLEMISS MBE