I absolutely love caring for women at El Camino Women’s Medical Group and am so grateful to that the physicians and staff have been so supportive of my trips to Tanzania. So many patients have asked about what in world I’m doing over there, that I’m happy to share why I go half way around the world.
It’s been an honor to be invited to work, learn and share best practices at FAME hospital in Karatu, Tanzania. FAME stands for Foundation for African Medical Education, and was started by an amazing husband and wife team, Dr. Frank Artress and Susan Gustafson.
Imagine a place where it’s mostly dirt roads, well, if there are roads, and where the jackals call out at night and you wonder is there something else larger and hungrier out there. This is a captivating place where giraffes graze on tender leaves on the very tops of thorny acacia trees and baboons roam the long steep road that leads up from the bottom of Africa’s Great Rift Valley to the Tanzanian highlands and the gateway to the Ngorogoro Crater and the Serengeti.
This is a place where the traditional Masaai people are wrapped up in the most colorful red, purples and blue plaid shukas, with intricate handmade beaded jewelry dangling from their ears, necks, ankles and wrists. These are some of the people that FAME serves. They are pastoralist, leading traditional lives herding goats and cattle, many still living in traditional mud huts with thatched roofs, known as bomas without water or electricity.
Until Frank and Susan began caring for people out of an old Land Rover, there were only 3 doctors available for over 250,000 people. And now, where there once was a bean farm, there is a small hospital staffed with Tanzanian doctors and nurses.
I was attracted to FAME for many reasons, mostly because their goal is to create sustainability and by the way, FAME’s staff of gardeners still grow most of the food right on the campus for both the staff and patients. FAME is non-denominational and while much of the work is supported through donations, the fees that patients are responsible for are kept at the same level as the government hospitals.
It’s hard to believe that in 99% of clinics and hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa, people must bring their own supplies and their own food. That means if someone is sick, their families also come, camp out nearby and cook, bringing sheets for the beds, gloves, and other medical supplies. And some people have no family to help. FAME is different in so many ways. At FAME, we feed the patients 3 meals a day, they have clean linens, and we have a cleaning crew that works constantly around the clock to make certain that the dust is kept away from all of the delicate medical equipment and people can heal in a place that’s clean.
I’m heading back to FAME in May to help them with a World Health Organization program for evaluating and treating pre-cancer and cancer of the cervix. I’ll also be helping train the staff in responding to obstetrical emergencies and teaching ultrasound. If you’d like to know more about the incredible people at FAME, you can learn more here.
El Camino Women’s Medical Group offers the latest Minimally Invasive Solutions for gynecologic problems. Drs. Amy Teng, Erika Balassiano, and Pooja Gupta, all members of AAGL (American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopy) are highly trained and experienced in the field of Minimally Invasive Gynecgologic Surgery. Dr. Erika Balassiano is also a graduate of the Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Fellowship at Stanford University, under the supervision of world-renowned Dr. Camran Nezhat.
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