Into Africa

22.6.2016

I am healthy and active with no sign of cancer.  I sit in my cottage on a little island in Penobscot Bay in Downeast Maine, looking over a sunny meadow to a very calm harbor.

I have joined the Global Health Service Partnership, a joint venture between Peace Corps Response, Seed Global Health, and PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. On July 10, I’ll fly to Washington DC for orientation and on July 21 fly to Malawi where I’ll spend a year in Blantyre, the commercial center of the country. I’ll be teaching psychiatry and child psychiatry at the College of Medicine of the University of Malawi.

I shall mostly be teaching 4th and 5th year medical students in small groups as they do their psychiatry rotations. I think that principles of compassion, patience, and curiosity—listening carefully at many levels— will be of use to them in gathering medical histories and working with patients generally , even though the vast majority will not go into psychiatry.

I’ll also have the opportunity to teach the few (3, I believe) psychiatry residents who are there, supervising their work in clinic.

I’ll undoubtedly provide some direct clinical services, as there is a great shortage of mental health workers in the country (as well as in all of the developing world). The United Nations World Health Organization estimates that mental illness in developing countries, especially depression, is the major cause of ill health and inability to work in the population. Suicide, especially among farmers whose crops fail because of weather (drought/flood), is a major problem in the developing world where life is very hard, food security lacking, and hope can be difficult to sustain.

I expect I’ll learn more than I give, of course. It has been a dream of mine to do this for a long time and this seems like the perfect opportunity.

Malawi is called “the warm heart of Africa” because of the kindness and generosity of its people. It is a small but very beautiful country in eastern Africa containing the 3rd largest lake in Africa. Lake Malawi occupies a third of the area of the country. 85% of colorful fresh water tropical aquarium fish come from Lake Malawi.

I plan to start a separate blog to chronicle my year. I’ll leave instructions to access it here when I know them.

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