The Embangweni Hospital is part of the Embangweni Mission Station located in the northern region of Malawi. It was established in 1902 by the Reverend Donald Fraser and Dr. Agnes Fraser and expanded to its present size in 1989 under the direction of Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth H. McGill.
It is a 120-bed hospital owned and operated by Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian. It serves a population of about 90,000 people in this area and also takes referral cases from even as far away as Zambia.
The hospital takes care of over 4,000 people a year in the female, male, children’s and TB wards. In addition, it offers a surgical theater, laboratory, pharmacy, laboratory, outpatient department, and nineteen monthly static clinics, manages three outlying health centers, and conducts 28 mobile clinics. A nutrition rehabilitation unit teaches new mothers how to better care for their infants. If the infants are at risk, there is supplemental goat milk and soymilk.
In 1998 the hospital and its health centers served a total of 90,832 patients.
The hospital compound is enclosed by a brick wall and has four brick buildings with tin roofs. Covered walkways connect the buildings and ease patient movement. A deep bore well provides water for the hospital, as well as nearby villagers. People gather outside the walls to trade and visit.
Over 90 staff members tend to the patients. Dr. Cosimo Storniolo from the United States is the medical officer in charge. The staff includes Dr. Neil Kennedy from Ireland, (serving the second year of a five year position), and Dr. Martha Sommers, from the United States. Dr. Storniolo’s wife, Meredith, a nurse, and Jodi McGill, nurse practitioner, work alongside the Malawian nursing crew. Technicians, a gardener, and a chaplain round out the Embangweni staff.
The hospital staff uses a variety of techniques to provide health education including singing songs with health education messages, conducting dramas, producing health fairs, and providing cooking demonstrations to increase nutrition.
Dentists visit twice a month, using portable dental equipment. Formerly the x-ray technician was the “dentist,” pulling troublesome teeth, but offering little more in dental care. Once or twice a year, a plastic surgeon comes to the hospital.
The chaplain, or “evangelist,” works full time and arranges services for bedridden patients and visits individual patients. He is trained in spiritual aspects of AIDS Counseling and Care. The Ken McGill Chapel is the spiritual hub of the compound. At seven o’clock every morning, except Thursday, the staff, guests, and ambulatory patients gather to worship. The chaplain or other staff member conducts the service. The choir, composed of staff members, sings every day. On Thursday morning, the chaplain and choir visit the various wards to offer worship opportunities for those unable to attend chapel.
The hospital sponsors various programs, many of them quite innovative, to meet the needs of the people.
Mobile clinics go out once a month, traveling as far as 30 miles away. The clinics offer full medical service to the injured and ill. They provide immunizations, prenatal care and education, family planning (including contraception and AIDS prevention), and nutritional training.
One of the most important of the programs is the Embangweni Clean Water Project. Through the shallow well project funded by Marion Medical Mission, shallow wells are installed in villages providing safe drinking water and eliminating water-borne diseases. In villages where a shallow well has been installed, cases of infant deaths due to dysentery have virtually been eliminated.
Another project recently introduced by Bob Holloway, through the Marion Medical Mission, is solar cooking as an alternative to cooking with wood. The solar cookers are simple, made from cartons coated with aluminum foil.
Another innovative program, introduced by Jodi McGill, involves the use of surrogate mothers for orphan babies. Female relatives of the babies come to the Embangweni Hospital, where the women take hormones by injection. The infants are given diluted goat’s milk through tubes attached to the surrogate mothers’ breasts. The stimulation of the suckling babies plus the hormone therapy is enabling the surrogate mothers to begin producing milk! The infants and their surrogate mothers can return to the villages. The surrogate mothers only need to return to the hospital once a month for the hormone injection. Because of the devastating toll of AIDS, many infants are orphaned. The villages have no cow, no milk goats, and no baby bottles. Without the surrogate mother program, many infants would die.
The hospital also sponsors a rabbit-breeding program. Because rabbits can multiply very rapidly and offer a good protein source, this is another promising program.
The bed-net project is designed to keep mosquitoes away from young hospital patients. About 200 nets at a time are dipped in insecticide, dried, and then draped over the children’s beds. The nets are also available to villagers for a nominal price. Donations have helped keep this program affordable.
The hospital is antiquated by American standards. Only a few years ago, visitors observed Dr. Ken McGill operating with a flashlight strapped to his head. When Tom Logan was there in 1990, the flashlight had been replaced with a Toyota truck headlight attached to a car battery, and this was the overhead light in the operating room. Dr. McGill anesthetized his patients by putting ether in a peanut butter jar. Sadly, in 1992 Dr. McGill was diagnosed as having Lymphoma and died shortly thereafter.
Dr. Becky Loomis of Anna, Illinois, went to the Embangweni Bush Hospital to take the place of Dr. McGill in August, 1992. Not long after she arrived, she discovered the only pain medicine they had at the hospital was aspirin. This hospital was treating postoperative cancer, amputations, measles, etc. with aspirin. They even had to re-use gauze dressings, taking them off of a nasty wound, and scrubbing and sterilizing them before putting them on someone else.
Dr. Loomis’ letter of May 10, 1993 said, “I’ve been faced daily with challenges that are more than I can handle, especially in surgery.” She tells of having to do bowel surgery, which she had never done before, using a textbook to guide her. “The young man did have a hole in his small bowel, but we were able to fix it and he went home three weeks later grinning from ear to ear. I think I lost three pounds, sweating during that surgery…I do a lot of praying in that operating theater.” She
closed her letter with, “The most important thing to be thankful for, has been the presence of God through all this year. Yes, I’ve been expected daily to do things that are beyond me, that I can’t do, but I think that’s the point. In living as Christians and trying to follow the example of Jesus Christ we all are being asked to do more than we can do by ourselves. We have to rely on God. I repeatedly forget, repeatedly goof up, continuously am humbled, and then remember God.”
The hospital has no electricity and no oxygen. It is located forty-five minutes from a paved road. But, as Dr. Loomis reported after her return to the United States, “by Malawi standards, it is high tech.” There are lights after dark now, powered by solar panels. The hospital has medicine “most of the time” in contrast with government facilities, which often run out of medicine and suture.
The Embangweni Hospital is funded primarily from donors including the Presbyterian Church (USA), Medical Benevolence Fund (MBF), Marion Medical Mission and individual donors. The government of Malawi provides some funding for staff salaries through the Christian Health Association of Malawi. A small portion of the funds comes from patient fees and ambulance rental.