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Friends of Chitambo :: in Time of COVID-19

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A member blog post by

Bridget Innes, Trustee

Friends of Chitambo

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Post written by Bridget Innes, Trustee at Friends of Chitambo.

COVID-19 at Chitambo District, Zambia

When COVID-19 hit the world in Spring 2020, Zambia did not escape, and in common with other low- and medium-income countries, was poorly resourced to fight the pandemic. Chitambo District in Central Province comprises many scattered villages covering a large area, with one 100-bedded hospital, Chitambo Hospital. Many people were affected by the virus, including staff and nursing students. One victim was Chief Chitambo, the 4th chief and descendant of the chief who hosted David Livingstone in his village before he died.

Friends of Chitambo (FoCH) was able to respond to the hospital’s need for supplies, providing help in the form of masks, disinfectants and oxygen equipment. This was made possible using Scottish Government Small Grant underspend from cancelled activities and travel; a Corra Foundation microgrant; and various fundraising activities in Scotland and Zambia, including our newly established stall at Penicuik Storehouse.

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Chitambo Hospital, Chitambo District, Zambia

The importance of oxygen

Oxygen is an essential part of the treatment of severe COVID-19 infection, but Chitambo Hospital relies on bottled O2, obtained from afar. A concept note from one of our Zambian-based trustees resulted in Scottish Government agreeing to fund an oxygen generation plant, and Zambian MOH Community Development Fund providing the building for it.

The oxygen generator

We have been anxiously following its progress from the manufacturer in Germany, by boat to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, loaded onto a lorry and driven along the Great North Road to Chitambo. There had been heavy rain, and the forklift truck, loaned by the nearby military base, had difficulty negotiating the mud. But eventually the plant was lifted onto the specially constructed reinforced concrete base slab, and a structure to house it is being built around it. The plan is that excess oxygen production will be sold to other facilities, funding future maintenance.

For maximum effectiveness, oxygen needs to be piped to the bedside. To pay for this, FoCH ran a Crowdfunding Appeal  and “Pedal4Oxygen” bike ride in Zambia. The amount raised was match funded by First Aid Africa.

Pedal4Oxygen bike ride in Zambia

Trauma training for clinicians

While the hospital was treating COVID-19 patients, it was also overwhelmed by multi-victim road traffic accidents, an all-too-common occurrence on the nearby Great North Road. Through the Scottish Government Small Grant, FoCH has organised trauma training for clinicians and first aid training for other hospital staff and members of the general public. The 2021 courses were delayed due to COVID-19, but eventually went ahead, led by an American doctor with various Zambian clinicians also teaching.

We were successful in our application to BMA Information Fund, and are expecting a delivery of books on maternity and child health, for distribution to outlying clinics.

FoCH Zambia

2021 saw the first meeting of the Zambian FoCH board, and it was officially registered as a Zambian NGO in August. This will mean that there are feet on the ground in Zambia, decisions can be taken locally, and they will have a Zambian bank account. Meanwhile, the ongoing commitments of FoCH continued – we provided scholarships for 4 student nurses at Chitambo School of Nursing, mentored by Zambian board members. We also maintain an ambulance provided by Scottish fundraising several years ago.

Looking forward

A FoCH trustee was introduced to Midtown Rotary in Lusaka, who have committed to supporting the much-needed renovation of the maternity and paediatric wards in the hospital.

Prior to the pandemic, FoCH was in consultation with NHS Lanarkshire about forming a link with Chitambo hospital, similar to NHS Borders and St Francis, Katete. Hopefully, this will be able to proceed once NHS Lanarkshire has capacity to do so, joining the sites of the birth and death of David Livingstone.

You can find out more about the work done by Friends of Chitambo here.

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