Here is my interview with Dr. Kevin Bergman, Co-Founder and Vice President of World Altering Medicine (WAM). I learned so much from him about the medical problems facing children in Malawi, and what grownups and kids around the world are doing to help:
1. You were so helpful to me when I was writing Laugh with the Moon. I was amazed by the details you shared with me about pneumonia and malaria in Malawi. Can you tell me more about these problems?
Thank you Shana. I was so honored to be able to help, especially with such a wonderful story in a place that is dear to my heart. Sadly, pneumonia and malaria, two diseases that are easily treatable and almost never fatal in America, kill many innocent children every single day in Malawi. According to UNICEF, one in eight Malawian children do not make it to their 5th birthday, and half of all these preventable deaths are from pneumonia and malaria.
Pneumonia is a bacterial infection of the lungs that makes breathing difficult, yet it is treatable with early antibiotics and oxygen. However, the majority of Malawians live in rural villages, far from a health facility, and even if they do live near a health facility, there are often no medications available. Malaria is an infection of the red blood cells transmitted via mosquitoes. Lack of medicines which could treat malaria, as well as the delay in care, often cause malaria to be fatal. By simply providing medicines which cost less than $3.00, we can treat infected children, who recover and can go on to live happy, full lives.
2. What are the hospitals like in Malawi?
The typical hospital in Malawi is nothing like a hospital in America, and is a very difficult place to get well. Although Malawian hospitals are free of charge, you find many things there that you would not see in America. There are long lines, patients arrive by oxcart instead of by ambulance, three children sleep in one hospital cot, it smells, they often completely run out of medicines, they have way too few nurses and often no doctors, they have to reuse gloves, often don’t have oxygen, and have frequent electricity blackouts. Many of my doctor friends who live in Malawi and have access to better private hospitals, fly to South Africa for treatment if they or their family members get sick.
3. What is World Altering Medicine and why did you decide to start it?
World Altering Medicine, or WAM for short, is a non-profit organization which helps provide life-saving medical care for patients in underserved hospitals in Africa, especially in Malawi. We focus on low-cost, high-impact interventions, such as providing oxygen, antibiotics, malaria medicine, essential medical supplies, and volunteer doctors to needy hospitals in Africa. Through KEEP (Kabudula Education and Empowerment Project), we also provide community-based support for the education of orphans and vulnerable children in the form of high school scholarships, books, school supplies, and peer-counseling.
While I was in medical school, I was lucky to participate in several medical missions to Africa, and those trips had a huge impact on me. I had never before witnessed a child dying of a treatable disease when the medicine was incredibly cheap by US standards ($5). I began to see that, with medical expertise and a relatively small amount of money, I could alter a life and help eliminate at least some needless suffering. My good friend and colleague Dan Dewey shares this passion for international medicine and we decided to start WAM together to do this work.
Every time I think of the sick children lying in Malawian hospital beds, I shudder with the knowledge that without outside help – just a few dollars each – many of them won’t survive.
4. What is the Breath of Life program?
Breath of Life provides oxygen to hospitals in Malawi to help kids breathe better when they are sick. Every hospital in the United States has oxygen machines, and even though they are essential for saving lives, it is difficult for hospitals in Malawi to buy these machines without help.
Through Breath of Life, WAM has provided dozens of oxygen concentrators to the pediatric wards of public hospitals in Malawi. It is hard to imagine that in many places in the world, like Malawi, a family with a sick child can arrive at the hospital, often after many hours of travel, only to find that there is little or no oxygen available. Without access to oxygen, children in respiratory distress often will suffocate to death. A properly functioning oxygen concentrator can support the lives of several children at a time and help nurse each one of them back to health. Every day, Breath of Life oxygen concentrators in Malawi save the lives of sick children.
5. What is the hardest thing about working in Malawi? What is the best thing?
As I said, Malawi is a place that is so near to my heart. There is incredible joy there, yet profound sadness too. The hardest thing about working in Malawi is seeing innocent women and children die from treatable illnesses, such as malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition, and childbirth complications, and knowing that if they lived somewhere else they might have survived. The best thing about working in Malawi is being able to take care of these wonderful, kind, humble people and give them another chance.
6. Is there any way for kids to help out other kids in Malawi?
Kids can do a lot to help kids in Malawi and help alter the world! Some of our biggest donors were kids who raised money through charity sales, bike-a-thons and bar/bat mitzvahs and birthday parties. So how can YOU help? There are lots of ways! Here are some of them:
To make monetary donations, please click here.
To send goods, please contact Sarah Greenberg: firstname.lastname@example.org.