Helping poorest people on the planet

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Jackie Simkins is looking for a way to help some of the poorest people on the planet after seeing appalling hospital conditions in Malawi.
Jackie Simkins is looking for a way to help some of the poorest people on the planet after seeing appalling hospital conditions in Malawi.

Jackie Simkins, daughter of a police officer and a nurse, grew up in Malawi.

She knows about the depth and breadth of poverty in Africa, but was appalled to find that nothing had changed when she returned there recently.

Mrs Simkins, a registered nurse, is now back at her post as general manager at Switzer Residential Care in Kaitaia, determined to do something to ease the suffering she saw, if only by sharing some of the basic medical resources that New Zealanders discard. And she is appealing to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to help her find a way of doing that.

Mrs Simkins has told Dr Coleman that she and friend Sue Curtis visited two medical centres, one in Livingstone (Zimbabwe) and one in Malawi.

They were "absolutely astonished" by the abject poverty they saw, and the lack of resources such as qualified staff, medicines, medical supplies, cleaning materials and equipment.

"I know that the will is there to do the right things, however without basic resources, even standards of hygiene and control of infection were almost non-existent.

In countries where they battle with mosquitoes and malaria, there were no mosquito nets in the clinics," she said.

"In Malawi, the community we visited does have some innovative support from an organisation called Determined to Develop (, which is working on a number of different fronts to improve the well-being of the people there, for example, women's empowerment, education and some sponsorship for university education for the young people.

"The organisation is a charitable trust, and we are keen, if we can, to support their work.

"In New Zealand we are very fortunate to have a well-resourced, first world health system with good standards, which demonstrate continuous improvement. However there is a huge waste of resources," she added.

"Medications that have not expired are destroyed when they are returned to the pharmacy.

A good example of an expensive waste of medications and dangerous poor practice is when older people are admitted into care, they often bring with them huge bags of in-date medications, many of which are no longer prescribed for them.

However, they continue to take them because they have them, because general practitioners continue to prescribe new medications without having the unused, no longer prescribed medications returned.

"If we are to continue with the same processes, which lead to such an expensive waste of valuable resources in New Zealand, would it not be better to share those resources with developing countries?"

The same argument could be used for some of the equipment that was disposed of, such as beds, chairs, bedside lockers, medical supplies/dressings etc., equipment that did not require on-going maintenance, calibration or electrical testing.

Mrs Simkins told the Minister that she and Ms Curtis wanted to develop a community project in Kaitaia to provide the clinic in Malawi with some of the basic equipment and medications it was lacking.

"We are aware that there will be a significant number of hoops to jump through to achieve our goal, not least arranging safe passage for any equipment/supplies to reach Malawi.

However, we are prepared for the long haul, and would appreciate your advice and any assistance you may be able to offer," she said.

- Northland Age

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