The Power of 50 Pounds
[4 minute read]
In health care, data speaks volumes. The numbers tell us how much progress we’re making in caring for and partnering with those we serve. But it’s the human stories behind the data that remind us of our purpose. Anna McDonald, M.D., a family medicine physician at Swedish First Hill, recently shared one of these stories.
Suitcases of supplies bound for rural Malawi, Africa
In February 2022, Dr. McDonald boarded a plane for rural Malawi in Africa. Stuffed into her luggage were nearly 50 pounds of equipment and supplies donated by the Providence Medical Surplus Recovery Operation. She and the supplies were bound for Mangochi District Hospital, where she has served extensively since 2015. The 500-bed public hospital operates with intermittent electricity, limited running water, and pharmacy and supply closets that are often depleted – especially since the onset of the pandemic.
Saving lives with sutures
Whenever she goes on international mission work, Dr. McDonald reserves most of the weight in her suitcase for supplies. “Those 50 pounds become precious when deciding what to pack for a hospital that serves 1.5 million people,” she says. When she arrived this time, her bag included gauze, sutures and essential equipment in critically short supply. Before she’d even had a chance to fully unpack, two colleagues appeared at her door. “They had no sutures in stock and were having to refer patients to a smaller hospital for critical surgeries,” she says. “I grabbed three boxes and handed them over.” That night, 14 mothers had emergency C-sections at the hospital.
“That's 14 women and 14 babies whose lives were saved by one box of sutures - a pretty incredible trade-off for less than one of those 50 pounds.”
Dr. Anna McDonald, family medicine physician at Swedish and faculty at Mangochi District Hospital, pictured below
Supporting local health care goals
In Malawi, it’s not just sutures that are in short supply. The country’s population of 19.5 million has only one physician to serve every 25,000 people. Increasing primary care access is a priority of the country’s Ministry of Health – a priority that Providence proudly supports.
Educating new generations of family physicians
Through a partnership with Seed Global Health, Swedish, and Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, Providence helps train and educate family medicine physicians. Providence Global and Domestic Engagement sponsors Dr. McDonald’s teaching position at Mangochi District Hospital, a role she shares with HealthPoint family physician Jacob Nettleton, M.D. Providence also sends family medicine residents to Malawi, and brings Malawian family medicine residents to Seattle, for two-way teaching and learning. The Malawian residents learn U.S. family medicine principles and participate in a leadership course while in Seattle. During their time in Malawi, the U.S. participants gain a better understanding of tropical diseases and innovative patient care in low-resource environments.
“The bi-directional trainee exchange has been a valuable source of learning for all involved,” says Dr. Nettleton, “and it represents a commitment to ethics and equity in preparing physicians to practice in an ever-more interconnected world.”
Through partnerships such as these, Providence continues to support health for a better world, and the 14 healthy children of 14 new mothers will someday have their own stories to tell.