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The Madagascar Medical Safari in Ampasinambo

Ampasinambo is a rural community located in the district of Nosy Varika, on the east coast of Madagascar. It is a small and very isolated village in this region. Just three serviceable cars were counted in the village and the mayor’s old truck. It is the only vehicle used to cross the 100 kilometres to reach the next village, Ambavanisahavato. The distance may be covered by foot in three days, or in seven hours riding on a motorbike, or two days by car. There, travellers can pay for a canoe to travel to the main towns of Nosy Varika or Mananjary to shop for clothes and general supplies.

To be able to bring help, hope and healing to those people in this extremely remote area, MAF Madagascar opened an airstrip in 2009, which is now mainly used for medical safaris and occasional medical evacuations.

A Hoveraid team of medical professionals including a surgeon, surgical assistant, surgical nurse, general practitioner, sonographer and ophthalmologists boarded the MAF flight at the International Airport, in Antananarivo. A local pastor joined the flight.

Forty-five minutes after take-off, the MAF Cessna Caravan landed in Ampasinambo at 10am. The villagers helped carry the medical materials and equipment to the hospital compound at the caretaker’s house where the volunteering medical team would spend four nights.

After the courtesy visit to the local authorities, the equipment was installed, and the team pitched the tents for the night. At 8pm, a man was led to the team by a police officer with bleeding wounds to the head. He was caught, with two other men, by the villagers while robbing a house. He was apprehended and injured in the process and his wounds needed immediate care. The medical team carried out a local surgery and stitched the head wounds as required. The man was then placed into custody while waiting for his trial in the main town of Mananjary. The next morning, there was a presentation of the medical team before the general consultations started.

Hoveraid Project coordinator Mrs Maholinirinaharijaona Sidonie reported that upon arrival, the village was quieter than during the previous visits. She said: “Life has become more and more difficult in Ampasinambo. The authorities on the spot said that it is since July that the villagers have begun to experience the consequences of Cyclone Batsirai (February 2022). They don't have enough stock of rice because all the rice fields are destroyed.” The crops harvest was almost reduced to nothing this year, the villagers suffered and had to live on the last year’s food stock. Everything has become very expensive, and it is hard to find vegetables and chicken.

During the day, a father led his 10-year-old son affected with spina bifida, a congenital disease resulting from the absence of closure of the spine. The surgery was not possible because the team could not perform a scan to determine its likelihood of being unsuccessful. The boy would need to be flown to the capital city for thorough diagnosis. Lambert, a 33-year-old young man, came in with severe ascites: an abdomen full of fluid, with swollen feet and face including trouble of breathing. The surgery team hospitalised him and inserted a drain into his abdomen to reduce the distension. Four litres of fluid were removed, and a medical treatment was provided to the patient. On the second day, two women, a mother and grandmother came in with a two-year-old-child suffering from severe malnutrition. Her name is Rafale. She was very tired and did not show sufficient strength to hold her head up nor open her eyes. She was totally dehydrated and weighed only 2.5kg. The team provided the medical care with a re-hydration drip solution, vitamin and the required antibiotics. The mother and girl were kept at the hospital under the good care of the health manager until the child’s condition would improve. A close medical follow-up was necessary.

Due to the conditions of life becoming worse, some villagers have abandoned their houses to move to the gold mining quarry eight hours away by foot. Unfortunately, the traders buy the villagers’ gold at a cheap price. Medical safaris are a great relief to a population who suffer from climate disaster, famine, and lack of medical facilities and personnel capable of caring for them in their village. The medical team was flown back to Antananarivo, with new expectations for the next schedule in two weeks’ time.

MAF Madagascar Operations Manager and pilot Ryan Unger said: “Ampasinambo is a short grass runway tucked between hills on the east coast of Madagascar and requires the maximum performance out of our C208 in order to carry an eight-person team in and out. It is an enjoyable challenge for our pilots to fly there, but even more so, it is a privilege to see our aircraft bringing the gift of healthcare to a very isolated region of Madagascar. We pray that both physical and spiritual healing would come through the medical team and the accompanying pastor.”



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