Medical Dispensaries: The Front Line in the Fight Against Malaria

by Lisa Bonds

A list of the top ten diseases seen in the Mukulu dispensary

Key leaders from Lutheran World Relief are currently traveling around Tanzania, seeing the work of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative. Here is an update from Vice President Lisa Bonds:

Dispensaries are the front lines of the health care system in Tanzania. These simple outposts look nothing like an American clinic or pharmacy. They are usually found in small, remote villages and they do their job with precious little advanced medical equipment or facilities.

The dispensaries serve as medical triage of sorts. At a dispensary, you can be tested for malaria and, if your test comes up positive (you can get the results within about 15 minutes), you can purchase the drugs that you’ll need to take to combat the disease. Pregnant women, who (along with children under five) are the most vulnerable to malaria, go to the dispensaries to get the two critical doses of IPT that protect them from getting malaria while pregnant. The dispensaries can also test for HIV/AIDs and they have a maternal and child health program.

The average patient of a dispensary walks, bikes or takes a bus anywhere from 3 to 25 kilometers to get treatment. All of us traveling on this Lutheran Malaria Initiative had an incredibly difficult time imagining walking for many miles, while sick with anything, to get basic treatment. The staff at the dispensary said that even though they are an outpatient facility, they sometimes have patients staying overnight because they are too sick and exhausted from their journey to make it back home.

Inside the Mukulu Dispensary

It was immediately clear that the staff working at the Mukulu dispensary near Singida were incredibly dedicated and committed to their work. When we asked them what they did if patients couldn’t pay for treatment, each of the staff told a story of how they had either paid for treatment out of their own pockets or provided it for free. No doctors work in these facilities and the one we visited was run by two clinicians (trained by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and the ELCT), two attendants and a night watchman. The dispensary sometimes sees as many as 30 patients each day.

Ross Edwards, husband of LWR’s board vice chair, Gloria Edwards, asked the people working at the Mukulu dispensary near Singida if they were paid staff or volunteers. They looked at each other and laughed a bit before they answered. One of the clinic attendants, Rebecca Filipo, answered, “A large part of what we do is as volunteers. We are supposed to fund the clinic and pay staff through fees earned from services. Many people cannot pay and we don’t want to turn them away. So, we treat them at little or no cost. This means that the dispensary earns very little money. Each month, we take the money we have and purchase drugs and the supplies we need. Then, if there is any money left, we divide it amongst ourselves.”

As we drove back to Singida, we talked about whether or not we would be committed enough to a cause or our work to do what the dispensary workers have done: To work hard six days a week for an entire month not knowing if we’d get paid. Ask the same question of yourself – what would you do?

Lisa Bonds is LWR’s Vice President for External Relations

  • Nikki Massie

    As a child, my grandmother told me my life's mission would be the work "I would do for free." As a young child, I had no understanding of this, but reading this I know she was right. What those dispensary workers do is more than just an occupation, it is a ministry. Their work is also a testimony to God's loving grace, that there are people in the world who can look beyond their own needs to help others in such a profound way.