Why I blog about (and work in) Africa


With this post, I am responding to kiwanja’s tag, and following in the footsteps of very impressive voices. Here are my $.02.

If someone asked me why I blog about Africa, I would give a straight response, “Because I work there.” A question might follow – “Well, why do you work there?” I think I can tackle that query with a quick story.

I was at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in the summer of 2007, volunteering with the mobile HIV testing unit, helping with immunizations, and counting pills in the pharmacy. When I wasn’t occupied, I spent time in the wards with my Mother, a physical therapist. It was my first time on the continent.

I was told that the hospital serves over 1/4 million people, spread 100 miles in every direction. There were two doctors on staff, assisted by a small group of clinical officers. The staff told  me they had recruited over 400 volunteers to act as community health workers (CHWs).

In four weeks at the hospital, I met only one CHW, who came in every week or so. I’d learn his name was Dickson Mtanga.

One day, Dickson was watching my Mother as she worked with a stroke patient, keeping track of the different exercises. As always, he carried a small notebook, wrapped in newspaper. I had seen him with the notebook, before. This time, curiosity got the best of me, and I asked him what was inside. He turned to me with a smile, scooted my way, and proudly opened the journal – revealing impeccable drug adherence charts for over 20 HIV-positive patients he was tracking. He’d walk 15 miles to check in with the patients, then another 25 miles to the hospital – just to have the ART clinician sign off on his volunteer work, and look over the statuses of his patients.

The thought that there were, potentially, 400+ ‘Dicksons’ within the hospital’s catchment area stunned me. The staff admitted that these CHWs were as disconnected from the hospital as the patients, and Mobiles in Malawi was born. I write about Africa and Malawi because I work there, and the people I work for are there.

Posted: February 10th, 2009
Categories: HIV/AIDS Care, Home-Based Care
Tags: , , ,
Comments: 7 Comments.
Comment from Lena Enck - February 11, 2009 at 9:50 am

A great summary of an even greater story. My first time on the continent was the summer of 2007 as well. But now I have embarked on a SUSTAINABLE venture by partnering with you. There are too many reasons why we must do the work that you have begun in Africa. Here’s to the spread of ideas and always, to the Dicksons, the individuals who make the work worth it.

Comment from Kaushal - February 13, 2009 at 7:12 am

Very well written post. My Dad has worked as a Doctor for close to 30 years in Africa and I can see where you are coming from — the problem is not the lack of dedicated healthcare professionals, rather the fact that those on the frontlines are far few and overwhelmed.

Technology can definity help bring efficiency and more importantly traceability to the system and that’s why I believe that your success is critical.

[...] hospital he was volunteering at had to serve 250,000 people in a 100 mile radius, and most of the community health workers actually working in villages had no contact back to [...]

Pingback from BeDo » What’s Your BeDo: Josh - June 9, 2009 at 8:51 pm

[...] Whenever I talk to someone who is socially minded, there are always one or two events that sent them down their path. What event(s) changed your personal trajectory? A conversation with Dickson Mtanga, a volunteer community health worker living in western Malawi. You can read all about this conversation (and Dickson) in this post. [...]

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Comment from Unparmaunsast - March 22, 2012 at 11:53 am

KOVAL ! why do you only respond to people who threaten to unsubscribe… what about me….Id like a shout out too ….I watched all your videos….TWICE…..i loved you when you weren’t? famous…. *sigh*

Comment from mts video - August 12, 2017 at 4:35 am

That’s what we’ve all been waiting for! Great posting! d