From the Golden State with Love: A Medical Mission Goes To Najo

By Oromsis Adula

January 27 (Opride) – “Where there is a will, there is a way” goes an oft-repeated axiom. California is located more than 8900 miles away from Najo in western Oromia, Ethiopia. A native of Najo, one nurse form the Golden State is going the extra-mile to help a hospital in her childhood town.

The Unites States is one of the few industrialized countries that do not provide a universal healthcare to its citizens. A healthcare reform, enacted in the summer of 2010 and hailed as President Obama’s landmark legislative achievement, was recently repealed in the republican-controlled congress. Even with more than 50 million Americans lacking health insurance, it is a far cry from the situation in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is one of the poorest on earth. An overwhelming majority of Ethiopia’s 82 million people lack access to basic healthcare. Ethiopia’s poor is largely illiterate and still depends on subsistence farming. The technological and medical breakthroughs of the new millennium have not affected Ethiopians even in smaller ways. Communicable but deadly diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, waterborne diseases, pneumonia, and goiter claim the lives of many. Amid these dire situations, a medical mission from California is trying to uplift a hospital in Najo. The country’s botched health policy falls short of matching the unprecedented population growth.

Najo is a small town located about 320 miles west of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. With approximately 100,000 residents, Najo boasts two privately owned clinics, two pharmacies, and a public high school. Much like the rest of the country, high infant mortality rate and poor maternal health threatens the people in this remote corner. According to Obse, these diseases are “treatable with proper medical care, medications, and supplies that the primary hospital lacks.”

Obse T. Lubo was born and raised in Najo. A graduate of Minneapolis’ South High School, Obse is passionate about using her knowledge to help others. Earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) from the Saint Paul based St. Catherine University; Obse currently works as a Registered Nurse in central California. Obse’s passion for expanding healthcare to the needy emanates from a keen understanding of the insurmountable health challenges in her native Oromia. She travels to Najo annually, volunteering and sharing her experiences with local healthcare workers. Obse firmly believes that “access to adequate healthcare and education are fundamental rights to not only reserved for the rich and the well-connected but also for the underprivileged.”

According to her, the only medical institution in the area, the Najo General Hospital, serves as a primary care center for more than 350,000 people from Najo and surrounding villages. Owned and operated by the Ethiopian government, the hospital has only four physicians – one Surgeon and three General Practitioners.

Obse describes the services at Najo hospital as “heartbreaking, sub-standard, and severely limited.” The hospital’s surgery center lacks an anesthesia machine. To make up for this deficiency physicians rely on spinal and/or local anesthesia to perform surgeries. At the unfortunate event of power outage, the hospital does not have a heavy-duty generator/electric supply as backup power source.

The Labor and Delivery Department, one that is most frequented by area inhabitants, does not have any basic equipment. According to Obse, “even patients with obstructed labor have to go through a referral hospital some two hours away.” Most patients at Najo hospital are treated free of charge but Obse notes that patients travel six to eight hours by foot, often carried on stretchers, in order to reach the hospital in the hopes of receiving treatment.

To emphasize the grave situation at Najo hospital, which is very revealing of the state of medical care in Ethiopia, Obse notes that because the hospital lacks disposable needles and syringes, “the hospital staff uses the same needle to give various injections/shots to patients, putting people at risk of infection and cross contamination.” A health science library for nurses, physicians, and other healthcare workers to look up up-to-date information that pertains to their practice is a luxury the workers can only wish for.

Realizing the urgent need and the opportunities thereof to make a difference, in 2009 Obse joined the Medical Relief Foundation (MRF), a non-profit organization whose mission is “to enhance the level of medical care in developing countries through strategic partnerships.” Since joining the MRF, along with her colleague Diane Brandeberry, RN, Obse has travelled to Ethiopia twice – July 2009 and October 2010, volunteering at Najo hospital for three weeks each time. She is finding success and setting a good example by raising money and medical supplies for Najo hospital thousands of miles away.

In a bullet point presentation emailed to past and potential donors, Obse lists the volunteer work she had performed at Najo hospital as follows;

July 2009 Mission:

  • Provided direct patient care under the supervision of Najo Hospital physicians
  • Delivered essential medical supplies including thermometers, blood glucose monitoring machines, and stethoscopes which were donated to the organization prior to the trip
  • Trained hospital staff and nurses on infection prevention and community hygiene
  • Provided quick in-services at the scene on certain nursing tasks
  • Purchased and installed medication cabinets for the inpatient medical and surgical departments

October 2010 Mission:

  • Continued to build upon the success of the first trip
  • Provided further training on infectious diseases and prevention to health care workers and members of the community
  • Trained Nurses on nursing standards of care
  • Delivered three boxes of medical equipment, which included medications, basic medical supplies, EKG Machine and teaching materials. 

     
    For round three of her mission, Obse is planning to ship a container filled with donated medical equipment and medication by July 2011. The donated items include: gloves, dressings, safety needles, fetal monitors, beds, mattresses, mosquito nets, X-ray viewing lights, ultrasound machines, anesthesia machine, and an X-ray machine. Donated by local hospitals and nonprofit organizations in California, the estimated value of these items is about $200,000, according to a fundraiser email.  
    I asked Obse how one can you support her mission
    ;

It costs $22,000 in order to ship the container to Ethiopia.  I am keenly aware of the tough economic times, which may limit how much people can contribute. Yet, every contribution, however small, will put us a step closer to fulfilling our goal of delivering the badly needed supplies to Najo. I saw firsthand that every dollar you contribute will go a long way in changing the dire circumstances that exist at Najo Hospital.

As we drove down to her work place in Central Valley California, I asked Obse about her ultimate goal. She quickly responded;

  • I am determined to do what’s humanely possible to prevent and reduce the spread of malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS, by educating the local community and providing them medication, educating them on how to use clean water, basic hygiene and live a healthy lifestyle. The medical mission trips help me establish long-term relationships to revisit each of the villages in which we work for several years until the community can help maintain their medical status independently and reduce the spread of infectious disease by at least 25% in the year 2013.