Francis Garwe has a special reason for wanting to be part of an interdisciplinary Northern Health team going to Zimbabwe in southern Africa to provide medical care and education.
He was born and raised in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, where the team is headed, tasked with providing the community with the keystone and “building blocks” they can use to create a happier, healthier future.
“I left Zimbabwe as a young man and I spent 15 years living and studying in the U.S. to improve my life. So this is my way of giving back and saying ‘thank you’ for allowing me the opportunity to become who I am today.”
Garwe works with Northern Heath as an organizational developer.
Called Zimbabwe/Canada Synergistic Health Improvement Initiative (ZCSHII), the program aims to improve health care delivery and also the general health of communities in Zimbabwe and Canada by connecting healthcare professionals in both countries to provide mutually beneficial relationships between the two groups.
Medical practitioners from rural or northern B.C., for example, will get exposure to “high volume, high intensity” situations in Zimbabwe.
Both the team from Canada and their counterparts in Zimbabwe will benefit from an exchange of information and from establishing community contacts and connections that can assist future teams who travel there.
Garwe noted that team members pay their own expenses for travel, food and accomodation.
“The important thing for me is that whatever we do in Zimbabwe, we want our work to be sustainable so teams who go there on future trips can build on what we’ve done.”
They leave Saturday and return home in April. To prepare, the team – medical students, nurses, lab technicians, etc. – took part in a pre-deployment education program coordinated by Garwe.
“We were told about the latest information on the ground through a video conference so we’d know about the political dynamics and cultural norms that we could expect once we got there.
“We are taking over there 22 suitcases, most of them are packed with medical supplies, everything from Tylenol to bandages – it all has to have a shelf life of at least six months.”
There are stipulations on what can and can not be brought into the country, said Garwe, and heath and government regulations as well as customs requirements have to be met.
Ray Marklan, a Valemount physician, is in Zimbabwe and acts as liasion for the team. Garwe wants to focus on healthcare education and building community relationships.
Once the team is up and running in Zimbabwe, Garwe expects to see patients present with medical issues ranging from open wounds that require dressing to patients having multiple symptoms which need diagnosis and treatment, he said.
Much of their work will include providing information on proper nutrition and preventative healthcare.
“One of the bigger issues for us this trip will be on children’s health, where there is a big need,” said Garwe, noting the team is fortunate to have been given permission to have a “hands-on” clinic.
“That makes our situation unique,” he said. “Usually you don’t get to work with patients themselves, so this is very special for.”
In her fourth year of the Northern Medical program, Bobbi Batchelor is the first student in her group to participate in the global health trip. She will study infectious diseases such as malaria and yellow fever at the University of Zimbabwe.
“This is an opportunity for me to explore a different health care system as a medical student,” said Batchelor.
The Northern Medical program is part of UBC’s Faculty of Medicine; rural students spend the first semester at UBC in Vancouver, then they follow the university’s curriculum in a northern and rural setting.