Story & Photos by Irina Randriamandrato
As she embarked on a flight with MAF to Nosy Varika, Maholy, a dedicated medical safari team member, reflected on her nine years in the role.
A team of health workers flew with MAF to an isolated community in Madagascar, bringing a precious cargo of medical equipment for the medical safari.
While some colleagues on the Madagascar Medical Safari (MMS) team delivered essential medicines on an arduous two-day trip over land to Nosy Varika, the 50-minute MAF flight from the capital Antananarivo carried an ultrasound machine, oxygen machine, echography machine, as well as a variety of medical equipment and supplies, tents, and mattresses. It’s necessary to bring all this equipment because the town’s clinic has nothing.
Maholy, Hoveraid Project Manager and an MMS team member, said the air travel made a big difference to the team’s impact in the isolated community on the east of the island nation. “It’s a five-day mission this time – two days for travel and three days for work in Nosy Varika,” she said.
“You know, you have to cross four rivers by bac (a small handmade raft) to get there. I’ve travelled on that road a couple times already. Let’s say it’s a completely different experience compared to a 50-minute flight with MAF,”
Nosy Varika is a remote and isolated community, inaccessible by road. The only means of reaching the village involves navigating a river using pirogues, a long, narrow boat, usually made from carving out a single tree trunk or by joining planks together. Despite the presence of a medical centre in Nosy Varika, this facility faces significant challenges due to the absence of resident doctors and surgeons. “The medical centre there is empty. There’s no doctors. This community is completely isolated,” she said. “Even medicine is scarce there because it is so hard to access.”
In the midst of their mission in Nosy Varika, the MMS team faced some unique challenges. “This mission set a record, surpassing the patient volume of all the missions we’ve undertaken so far. We weren’t prepared to receive so many people,” said Maholy. Some patients had travelled from distant locations, arriving two days before the MMS team arrived. Many of them were aware of the pre-operation restrictions, strictly prohibiting eating or drinking. In anticipation, families fasted their children, ensuring they could be prioritized for surgery. On the first day, the surgical teams successfully delivered two babies by c-section and operated on 20 children.
"The island is so incredibly diverse, but many people share a common challenge: limited healthcare access," Maholy explained. “This type of work isn’t for anyone; it can be tough at times. But knowing that we’re helping and making a difference to our broader communities is what keeps me going.