May 2, 2011

Jhpiego Tanzania team innovates to save a life

Members of Jhpiego’s Tanzania team put the organization’s motto—innovating to save lives—into practice in a most unexpected way recently. Four employees were returning to Dar es Saalam from a work trip when the driver spotted a crowd of people on the side of the road. He slowed, and the group tried to flag down the car—a child was lying on the side of the road with a crowd around him. The boy was screaming and sobbing.

“We all looked at each other to see what the others thought,” said Marya Plotkin, a senior monitoring and evaluation officer in Jhpiego’s Tanzania office. “Everyone had the same thought: We couldn’t pass by without seeing what had happened to the child and if we could help.”

The team stopped the car and got out. A boy of about 10 had been hit on his bicycle by a tractor. He was screaming in pain. Nearby villagers had been trying to get someone to stop for an hour, Plotkin said. After a quick consult, the Jhpiego employees—Plotkin, Lusekelo Njonge, Rehema Athumani Shabani—and driver Beder Lyimo moved into action to help the boy, whose arm and leg appeared to be broken.

“Lusekelo called the men to cut poles to set the child’s arm and leg—which were indeed severely broken—binding the limbs with inner tubes from bicycles,” Plotkin said. “He also determined that the child needed to be transferred to Tumbi Regional Hospital rather than the local district hospital, due to the extent of the injuries.”

Lyimo, the driver, headed to the town of Mkata to recruit a minibus to ferry the child and his parents to the hospital. He returned to the scene also with a traffic police officer, who was able to write an accident report, saving the family valuable time that they would have had to spend at a police station reporting the accident.

“Rehema held the first aid kit for Dr. Njonge, braving the heart-rending screams of the poor boy as his limbs were set, and then helped negotiate the fare for transport,” said Plotkin, who, along with her colleagues, contributed money to pay the minibus driver.

Plotkin said that the sight of the boy—a child about the same age as her son—made her fearful she would pass out. But she stood her ground.

With the injured boy on his way to the hospital, the Jhpiego team got back in the car to return to the office. “We knew that the child had a good chance of saving his limbs and avoiding lifelong disability,” Plotkin said.

Reflecting on the experience, Plotkin said she was proud of her Jhpiego colleagues. “I knew—and was reminded of—how Jhpiego is filled with everyday heroes, who care about the lives and health of people around us,” she said.