Monash nursing student Rebecca Hibbert used Facebook to raise valuable financial donations while volunteering in Kenya.
Rebecca spent three months - between graduating from a Bachelor of Nursing degree and beginning an Honours degree in nursing - providing health care in Mutumbu, a small village near the Uganda border where nurses are in desperate demand.
Collaborating with other volunteers in the World Youth International program, she ran a social networking campaign to raise enough money to purchase a much-needed fridge for the local health clinic.
The fridge allows the clinic to store new medications, including childhood vaccines. The clinic is now also able to take and store blood and blood products, which can help save lives in emergencies.
Other volunteers raised money to run eight medical camps at a cost of about $1000 each. Each camp provides vital health care to up to 400 villagers who often travelled great distances to attend.
Patients were seen by a doctor and then referred to Rebecca for treatments such as the administration of injections or IVs, dressing and treating skin conditions, and dispensing of medicine.
In one instance Rebecca treated a seven-year-old girl with burns to 20 per cent of her body. “In Australia, the child would have been in hospital, given IV fluids and monitored closely for signs of shock,” she said. “The best I could do was tell the mother (through a translator) to keep her daughter drinking fluids overnight and to try to find her hut the next day for follow-up treatment.”
When not working at the weekend medical camps, Rebecca offered education sessions to local women who provide basic health care in their villages; provided care at the local maternal and child health clinic; and dispensed health treatment - including consulting with patients when the doctor was out of town - at the local medical clinic.
Rebecca said the lack of medical staff in the area meant that many of the health professionals providing treatments in the clinic were called doctors but were actually trained as lab technicians or nurses.
Villagers also often visited Rebecca at the compound where she was staying or asked her to visit their huts to dispense medication or treat an injury.
The work was daunting but also incredibly satisfying and Rebecca often felt she was making a significant difference. For example, one mother was struggling to breastfeed her baby and had no access to formula. Rebecca recalled learning about an anti-nausea drug that had the side effect of stimulating breast milk. After consulting with a doctor in Australia she was able to offer the drug to the woman.
“She is now breastfeeding with no problems and her baby is healthy and should continue to grow and thrive,” she said.
Common health problems Rebecca encountered during her stay in Kenya included conjunctivitis, malaria and jiggers, a parasitic flea that burrows under the skin and eats away the flesh.
The only treatment for jiggers is to cut them out with a scalpel. “I had to offer some hygiene education after seeing locals use the same bloody scalpel and wash feet in the same bucket of bloody water all day long,” she said.
Rebecca also contracted malaria. The local doctor was unable to perform a diagnostic test because “the power was out”. Rebecca monitored the development of her symptoms, diagnosed herself and treated herself with anti-malaria drugs she had in her own supply kit.
Rebecca said she was inspired by the generosity and kindness of the many Kenyan doctors who had given up good salaries in university hospitals to establish health clinics in remote areas. In many cases, patients were so poor that the doctors worked for small fees or paid for the procedures and surgeries themselves.
While completing an Honours year at Monash University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery Rebecca is also completing her graduate year at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Eventually she hopes to study medicine at Monash’s Gippsland campus.
Rebecca’s ongoing career goal is to continue travelling to remote areas and third-world countries to provide health care in communities that have little access to modern medical services.