Occasionally in this line of work you hear a story of people doing great things with their lives, facilitating change and making that impact that so many of us strive for in our professional and personal lives. This is one of those rare occasions I ask you to stick with it and to consider supporting this project in whatever way you can. Many more details about the Ethiopian Medical Project (EMP) can be found here on their website.
The people behind the project
Maureen Burnett and Jo Middlemiss are first cousins and close friends. They both grew up in Glasgow before going their separate ways through careers, marriage, children and grandchildren.
Maureen had a long career in catering. Jo worked as a teacher, relationship counsellor and coach. Jo followed Maureen’s lead out to Ethiopia. Together they set up EMP after getting to know the people of the Buccama Clinic: a community that comprises a small band of religious sisters, a dedicated staff, and many, many people dependent on the clinic for their needs.
Why the Buccama community needs a health clinic
It’s a traditional rural clinic serving in the district of Wolayitain Southern Ethiopia, an area about the size of Wales. They started to receive mothers suffering from Uterine Vaginal Prolapse (UVP). Successful treatment of this condition can return women to their vital place in their families and communities. So far, approximately 10,000 women have been returned to functioning members of their community, as wives and mothers.
At first, many women received a surgical repair when they were healthy enough. Funding for these operations has now been withdrawn and a return to health is now sought through the safer system of vaginal ring pessaries, also introduced by EMP. Many Ethiopian women suffer from this condition because of long unsupported labours and the carrying of excessively heavy loads.
What is supposed to be on the inside of a woman is painfully and, as perceived by many in the community, shameful on the outside. In many cases women are ashamed and uneducated about their condition, and often banished from their marriage and usefulness in the communities.
The clinic also looks after families in all the usual ways: antenatal, births, inoculation, health education, small injuries, malaria, HIV and the rest. UVP mothers is a workload that the Clinic has picked up over the last 12 years.
The clinic also treats people disabled by a type of elephantiasis called podoconiosis. Podoconiosis also known as non-filarial elephantiasis, a disfiguring disease of the lymphatic vessels of the lower extremities caused by chronic exposure to irritant soils. Methods of prevention include wearing shoes and using floor coverings. Treatment mainstays include daily foot hygiene, compression bandages and, when warranted, surgery of overlying nodules. Podoconiosis is classified as a neglected tropical disease (NTD).
It is estimated that half of the world’s population of people who suffer from podoconiosis are in Ethiopia, approximately three million. This condition also carries a social stigma, with sufferers being ostracised from their families and communities. Yet both UVP and podoconiosis can be treated and, in many cases, reversed with simple treatments. In the last decade, donations from EMP have allowed the medical team at the clinic to treat thousands of patients, allowing them to live free from pain and suffering.
How the EMP started
When the two cousins first got involved nine years ago they only sought to provide a few basics and extras; mattresses, some medicine, drinking vessels and plates and other basic items.
Nine years later, after many ups and downs, EMP pays the salaries for members of staff. Two extensions have been built that provide two wards and a lab. The water pump has been replaced and an essential robust 4×4 has been acquired. The work goes on.
What can you do to support the Buccama health clinic?
In 2018 the clinic expanded to become the Buccama Health Centre, with the aforementioned two wards and a laboratory as well as 22 members of staff, including five qualified nurses. Each year the EMP commits to raising a minimum of £50,000 to cover the medical staff’s wages and medical supplies. EMP’s goal is to raise £5mn to enable the Centre to be self-sustaining going forward.
If you want to get involved in this project, which directly changes the lives of many people in this region of Ethiopia, look at the support page on the EMP website. Changing the fortunes of others and of communities requires commitment and effort by individuals. Many small acts can and do add up to major change when we step back and look at the whole picture.
Scotland has a long tradition of engagement with communities in less developed countries. This project, and others like it, enables the public to get involved with a community, to offer help and have confidence that all their efforts will be channelled to where it is most needed. The world needs more cousins like Maureen Burnett and Jo Middlemiss.
Maureen and Jo, who co-founded a charity to support a medical clinic for women in Ethiopia, 12 years ago, were awarded MBEs in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list 2020
Scotland and Ethiopia are both richer for their commitment and work.
If you want to support this worthwhile project, please donate here.