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Where poverty crushes

Doctor, family saving lives in Niger

August 30, 2010
Observer Today
They say change is good. Imagine going from living amid the Allegheny National Forest to living in the deserts of Africa. Dr. Matt Megill, his wife Tara, 4-year-old daughter Irene, and 2-year-old son Emmett live in a 40-building compound near Galmi Hospital in the Republic of Niger, West Africa, a developing and poverty-stricken country. Galmi Hospital was founded in 1950 by Serving in Mission, a worldwide Christian missions organization. It contains 110 beds and the staff there tends to more than 1,000 patients a week. After corresponding with the hospital in 2007, the Megill family moved to Niger in 2008. “We were interested in serving a Muslim was a place we felt we could serve both physically and spiritually,” Megill said. Living in a foreign country may be difficult, but moving your family, learning a new language and an entirely different culture is even more challenging. Megill said one of the hardest parts was being cut off physically from family and loved ones back home in Warren. They are able to stay connected since they do have Internet access where they live in Niger, but it is slow and not always reliable. There were many things to get used to. The national literacy rate in Niger is estimated to be between 10 to 28 percent, which adds to the already present difficulty of effectively communicating with patients. The types of illnesses and diseases that Western countries have are vastly different from those found in West Africa, which provides a different kind of challenge when diagnosing patients. For example, Megill stated that the people of Niger do not have a word for ‘stroke’ or ‘immune system’, so there is a cultural and communication barrier to contend with in order to properly treat them. “It comes down to retooling your knowledge base. Medicine is so cultural and have to become familiar with a whole different set of drugs,” Megill explained. “These patients are very sick and you don’t have the tools that you’re used to working with.” Malaria is the single biggest diagnostic issue in the area with pneumonia and HIV also being dominant illnesses, though HIV is not as big of a problem in West Africa as it is in some of the southern African countries. There is a weekly market where fresh produce and other necessities may be purchased, but it does not compare to driving to the local grocery store to pick up whatever you need, whenever you need it. Sometimes the water well breaks. Even with preparation, this all takes some getting used to. Tara Megill tends to the children and oversees their learning and education. She also devotes time to continuously learn the Hausa language and customs, such as keeping her head and legs covered in public, even in 100 degree heat, in order to follow Muslim ways of life. The Megills designated three months to learning the Hausa language in order to be prepared for their move. “I do love the Hausa people and the Hausa language and that has grown over the time I’ve been there,” Megill said. “I love the intellectual challenge of the language and to develop those relationships cross-culturally enriches you personally.” The most rewarding thing he says, from a medical perspective, is seeing patients improve. “It’s a team effort and it’s tremendously gratifying to see them turn around,” Megill said. “There are definitely people who our ministry has really helped.” Most patients stay in the hospital for about a week, depending on the level of illness. For some, it is necessary to stay a bit longer but that is generally an exception. The care at Galmi Hospital is not free, but it is subsidized. Other funding is provided by Serving in Mission as well as various donors and the staff salary is paid for through gifts to the ministry. The Megill family will be returning to Niger in a few months, after the birth of their third child. Dr. Megill will be the featured speaker for the Warren Missions Project 2010 Program at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Slater Room of Warren Public Library.

Article Photos

Megill stands outside of Galmi Hospital.

Fact Box

‘...We were interested in serving a Muslim was a place we felt we could serve both physically and spiritually.’ Dr. Matt Megill


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