On Tuesday, November 5th, Dr. Maggie Carpenter and a team of volunteers from GoDocGo and Le Korsa will be heading to Senegal, Africa. I am one of the volunteers who will be on the trip. While I am there, I will keep you posted as to what the team is up to and my impressions as a first time visitor to Senegal.
For those of you who are not familiar with the work of GoDocGo, it is a non-governmental International medical organization that works to prevent cervical cancer around the world. Dr. Carpenter created GoDocGo in 2013 and then went on the first trip to Ethiopia in 2014. I have been on the Board of Directors since 2013.
We will land in Dakar on Wednesday morning, November 6th. Once we are there and I get connected with wifi, I will keep you up to date on our work and travels. In the meantime, I am going to brush up on my French and start packing my bags. A Tout a l’heure!!
On Wednesday, we began in St. Louis, Senegal, moved onto Dakar and by Thursday morning, I was back in New York. A real whirlwind for sure. It started when we left St. Louis on Wednesday morning in our two vans and worked our way back to Dakar.
This time, the luggage stayed in the car but as we drove along, we saw roof racks packed with all sorts of things.
As we left the cities in Senegal and drove by the villages, we could see that there is not very much there. It is mostly huts on the side of the road, some of them selling vegetables and fruit, others selling peanuts (they are from Senegal). You see many horses hauling carts laden with all sorts of things inside of them. As a horse person, it made me sad to see that many of the horses were skinny and many were lame. I am not sure how the lives of these horses can be changed. They are a needed part of the work system in Senegal. Very few people can afford cars or trucks so the horse and donkeys fill in. That being said, not all horses were in bad shape. We did take a carriage ride with a horse named Michael Jackson. He goes as Michael for short. It was good to see that he was both well fed, not lame and had a fancy head of hair. He did not wear a white glove.
At the end of the day, we arrived in Dakar at a hotel near the airport. Five of us left to head home and on Thursday, Maggie and Pat left with the team from Atila to the Gambia for another screening and training.
It was a great trip. I feel lucky that I got a glimpse into the lives of those who live in Senegal. I have a more detailed understanding of the work of GoDocGo and Le Korsa. Le Korsa is an NGO that works to improve lives in Senegal through health care, education, agriculture, and the arts and GoDocGo works with them while we are in Senegal.
For me, it was an incredible opportunity to be able to go into the hospitals and meet the doctors, mid-wives and the patients. It was inspiring to see all that has been done to move the mission of GoDocGo forward. Maggie Carpenter has created something that there is a critical need for not only in Africa but around the world. Now she is not seeing through her vision and making it come to life. She is really the go in GoDocGo.
Thanks for following along. It was a lot of fun to have the time to take pictures and write what I was seeing. Stay tuned for the next adventure!!
We are back for another day of screenings at the St. Louis Regional hospital.
Today began with a presentation by Youxiang Wang about the Atila Biosystems Ampfire HPV testing unit and the benefits of early detection with HPV. Providing this technology enables this hospital to screen, see results and treat on a timely basis. This has never been done in Senegal before.
Our trip has been running smoothly except yesterday there was one glitch. The Ampfire HPV machine that had been sent to Senegal had arrived but it had been stuck in customs for three weeks. Senegal time moves a little slower than regular time but this was really slow!! Dr. Faye, who lives in Dakar, was finally able to free it and then bring it to St. Louis The good news is that Dr. Wang and Dr. Chen will be able to train the lab technicians on how to use the equipment so that the hospital can screen many more women and get the results quickly, reliably and inexpensively.
One of the women who tested positive yesterday came back today for thermo-ablation. This is a procedure that destroys the abnormal cells using heat and thus prevents the development of cancer. If she was not treated, chances are that those cells, over time, could develop into cancer. The good news is that she will come back in a year to be checked and in most cases, she will be ok.
Today we are seeing more positive results and treating them. Again, because GoDocGo has donated the equipment, we are able to treat these positive results while the women are here. I continue to be impressed by the work and mindfulness of the midwives. They are businesslike, kind, smart, funny and warm, all rolled into one. Really amazing people. It has the feel of a medical carnival. I feel lucky to be able to be a fly on the wall here in the exam room. I am getting a firsthand glimpse into another culture that I would not be able get in most cases, certainly not in the United States.
What is also amazing, is that the screenings and the procedures that the women are receiving are free. Again, this goes back to the money that GoDocGo raises to be able to buy equipment and supplies and bring them with us when we come. It also happens because GoDocGo trains the doctors and mid-wives how to use the equipment so that screenings and care can continue when we are not here.
Our work in St. Louis is done and tomorrow we head back to Dakar. Some of us will head home to New York and some for a quick trip to Paris on the way home. For Maggie and Pat and the the team from Atila, they will head to the Gambia where they will do screenings, trainings and delivering another Ampfire HPV tasing unit to the hospital.
After a nice break, we are back on the job at the Centre Hospitalier Regional de St. Louis. It is a hospital that GoDocGo has visited in November of 2017 and again in June of 2018. This is our third visit here. I am the roving photographer trying to give you a glimpse inside a day in the life of GoDocGo while on the road.
Today we are screening for HPV – Human Papilloma Virus in addition to using visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) to screen for cervical cancer. HPV causes ninety-nine percent of cervical cancer.
We have been joined by Youxiang Wang, the owner of Atila Biosystems located in Mountain View, CA, his son, Zach Wang and Xin Chen who is a scientist who works with Youxiang. Atila Biosystems has developed the Ampfire HPV testing unit and reagents to immediately read the results of the HPV test.
There are over fifty patients here today for HPV and cervical cancer screenings. In addition to the patients, several of the midwives get screened as well. The doctors are also administrating breast exams and showing the women how they can check themselves at home.
GoDocGo has bought the Amfire HPV testing machine for this hospital and the team from Atila is here to train the doctors on how to use the machines. This is the first general hospital in Senegal to have HPV testing which is really amazing.
The benefits of HPV screenings are that if the results are negative, the women do not need a speculum exam and they only need to be screened every five years. If the results are positive, further testing is needed.
Right now, Dr. Carpenter is checking a patient who tested positive last week and is being rechecked because the midwives wanted a second opinion while we are here. This could not have happened if we were not coming on a regular basis.
This is a perfect example to see how the money that you give to GoDocGO is being used. It would not be possible for us to provide this machinery without your donations and it would not be possible to read the results of the swabs without the machine. We have brought 1,000 HPV tests for this hospital and the tests cost $5.00 per person to administer. So, you can really see your dollars at work. We could not do it without our donors. Thank you!!
What I find truly different here in Senegal, is the feeling of empowerment that exists between the women. There is a comradery between the midwives and the patients and the midwives and us. These midwives have come to know us and trust Maggie and the others on the GoDocGo team which is yet another benefit of coming back on a regular basis.
It has been a full day. For me, without a medical background, I am learning so much. I think that I need to come on a more regular basis to awaken my French. Right now, I am in the exam room and have been put in the role of translator. It is like opening a vault that has been sealed for several years. First my mind thinks in English, then Spanish and then the French starts to come. Although each day, more French comes back which has been useful these days.
Well, I think I must be in another movie!! We have arrived in St. Louis, Senegal and as far as I can tell, there is no arch here.
It is no easy feat traveling by car in Senegal. The roads are not great and once we left the congestion of Dakar, the traffic was caused by a wayward goat or donkey. We are traveling in two vans with very good drivers. The Senegalese take their speed bumps very seriously and have inserted them in the roads as often as possible so it is hard to get much speed going.
As we made our way along today, I was in the second van. We went over yet another bump and then next thing I know, we started to back up which I thought was perhaps speed bump enthusiasm. It seemed excessive. What I had not seen was the that the back of the van in front of us had flung open, sending a backpack careening out and landing underneath our van, while we were going over the speed bump!!
After some back and forth, we were able to get the backpack out and after shaking off the dirt, the computer inside remain unscathed. It was really quite amazing!! The drivers took it all in stride as if it was an everyday kind of thing, The rest of the ride remained uneventful in comparison and we arrived in St. Louis later in the afternoon.
It is the original capital of Senegal and sits on the Senegal River. Our hotel is on the water and comes with it’s own 75 year old tortoise whose name is Sony.
Tomorrow and Tuesday we will head back to the clinics to continue screening for cervical cancer. Stay tuned. More details to come.
Today is a holiday in Senegal celebrating the prophet Mohamed’s birthday. Given the festivities, we have not been able to work in any hospitals over the past two days. Instead, three of the other GoDocGo volunteers and I set out to Goree Island.
This is an island off the coast of Dakar where slaves were sent before being shipped to other countries. It was a study of contrasts, sobering and yet in a beautiful setting. The rooms where the slaves were kept were small and dark. The slaves spent three to six months on this island and were separated by sex and age while they were there.
Now Goree Island is a place where tourists go to learn about the brutal past. It has become a source of income for those people working on the island which I suppose, is a good thing.
Tomorrow the GoDocGo team heads to St. Louis which is up the coast from Dakar. We will be there until Wednesday and more pictures and news to follow.
I don’t get asked very often if I am a doctor, as a matter of fact, never at all. Although today, I was asked, “Am I a doctor”?, “No”. “Nurse?”, “No”. More of the roving photographer I am sure the midwife wondered what I was really doing. And that is what has been so exciting. GoDocGo has been to two hospitals to screen women for cervical cancer. I have been lucky enough to work and observe alongside a great team of doctors and other medical personnel. It has been so eye opening, in every sense of the word, to be a fly on the wall.
The word for mid-wife in French is Sage Femme and it accurately describes the women we have met at the clinics. While at the clinic, there is a real feeling of camaraderie and support that exists between the patients and the mid-wives. The patients seem truly grateful although sometimes nervous.
A perfect start to a smooth trip involved a pre-flight stop at Shake Shack in the Delta Terminal at JFK which was delicious! When we landed, we hit the ground running and went right to a new hospital, Region Medicale de Dakar, to do cervical cancer screenings and training on the equipment that GoDocGo brought over. There were over 20 women screened and two had precancerous legions on their cervix which the doctors were able to treat with thermo-abalation therapy. It was a success!! Over 35 midwives from the area took part in the training and the screenings. More tomorrow.