Thousands of people traveled across the globe this summer to South Africa for the 19th FIFA World Cup. Columbia lacrosse senior Mollie Andreae made the journey as well, but she traveled there for a different reason - to volunteer at hospitals across the country for a program called Child Family Health International.
Andreae is working in a government hospital for low a low economic population called Eerste River, located in the northern suburbs surrounded by townships. Unfortunately, the harsh reality for many citizens is that they are unable to access the local hospitals. Instead, there are mobile clinics that travel into the small townships to offer basic health care to the people. During her two months in South Africa, Andreae is volunteering on one of these mobile clinics.
It didn't take Andreae long to discover how the medical field in South Africa is very different from the system back in the United States.
"I have been extremely lucky to have the opportunity to see a different approach to healthcare," said Andreae. "The people depend almost entirely on their clinical assessments instead of the technology we have such unlimited access to. The CEO of my hospital has been unbelievable and I have learned so much about the health care system here in South Africa. However, the most enlightening people have been the patients, and it has been their stories that have resonated the most."
The rising senior has been working in the Kangaroo Mother Care Clinic that promotes skin-to-skin contact between the mothers and their children in order to help their premature babies gain weight. Many of the women she has worked with have extremely challenging socioeconomic situations and are unable to maintain employment. Additionally, she has found that many of the patients are both HIV positive and have tuberculosis. Sadly, there are several deaths on her ward each week, with many of the patients between the young ages of 20 and 30 years old. This is a harsh reality that is proving detrimental to the development of South Africa.
But Andreae is doing her best to combat those harsh realities with tiny acts of education that can save lives. On a daily basis, Andreae along with the other volunteers, do things such as arts and crafts, and educate on breast feeding and baby cues among many other things, to keep the patients occupied and upbeat.
"In a lot of cases, these patients need someone to talk to more so than medical care," Andreae said. "In the KMC ward, I have been helping out organizing programs to help distract the mothers from their exhausting lives. This has been such an amazing experience connecting with the patients."
Health is something that has always interested Andreae, and international medicine is something that has become a passion for her over the years. During the last two summers, Andreae has taken similar trips to Honduras, and when her classmate, Flannery Gallagher, mentioned a friend of hers did the Child Family Health International program while studying abroad in South Africa, Andreae did some research and decided to go for it. While Andreae wasn’t the only person planning a trip to South Africa in the summer of 2010, she is one of the only ones who can claim motivation other than the global game of soccer. Andreae has global goals of her own.
"I love international medicine and feel that there is a great need for more people to practice medicine on a more global level," Andreae said.
With determined and caring volunteers like Andreae, that need could someday be just a memory, much like the games of soccer that were played in stadiums around South Africa.