Word of mouth, a bunch of tarps, an empty field, four days, 60 international doctors, 100 Ethiopian doctors, and a lot of life sticks (personal water filters). This was the scene I came upon yesterday in the Samuna Ber area of Gondar. Once a year an organization called Jewish Voice Ministries (they believe in Jesus, it gets confusing – translating who they were was interesting for Ethiopian Orthodoxers) sets up a clinic on the outskirts of Gondar that sees over 8,000 patients in four days. And it’s all free medical care.
There were lines around the blocs for dental, eye care, medical, pediatrics, and sanitation sessions. People were queued through lines outside, waiting areas inside, and for one on one visits with doctors. Many of the volunteer translators and crowd control were street kids and tour guides I see daily in Piazza. It was so great to see them volunteering, and when I praised them for it you could see how proud they were to be helping.
I randomly came across this giant operation through word of mouth. Being a volunteer (read… foreigner) in Gondar I was ushered straight in and given a visitor’s badge. I could walk freely through the different “wards” and even helped with a bit of translating (surprising everyone…. of course). I saw people from all around the city that I knew, including one little girl who goes to school across the street from my house.
Every patient was given a pink prescription card, which helped them through the process. The amount of organization was actually quite impressive. Different coloured bracelets for different wards, a general flow and lots of Gondar area volunteers helping people understand where they needed to go next.
After patients had been through whichever station they needed, they were sent to a pharmacy to pick up any medication that was prescribed by the volunteer doctors. On the way out, everyone was given a session on hand washing and water hygiene as well as a LifeStraw, which is a personal water filter. Over 8,000 of these were distributed throughout the week.
The whole thing popped up and cleaned up in less than a week. Off to Zambia, the group do these “pop up clinics” all over the world, where former Jewish tribes are rumored to be. Gondar, being the site for a lot of Israeli aid, is the only site in Ethiopia where this event occurs. The entire operation was, at least for the two hours I stopped by, well organized, well stocked, and fairly calm even though some of the people had been waiting half the day. Small and simple surgeries were performed in a room upstairs, and more complicated ones (like cataracts on one patient who is a student at the blind school) were referred to the local University of Gondar hospital. People came from all over the city to ask their questions and get checked out for free. Many times, while going to a clinic in the Ethiopian healthcare system is free (once you register the first time – 10 birr), the medications to treat are paid out of pocket. For many people, that means they wait too long to seek care, and sometimes it is too late.
Giant pop up clinics, while a major operation, are a time people can come to find diagnoses early, and will hopefully act on those within the national health care system as quickly as possible. They aren’t sustainable, but if a quick diagnosis and free meds will help, once a year it’s not a bad thing at all.