Far from the path of early explorer, David Livingstone, lies the eastern shore of Africa’s largest lake. Victoria is its name. Here existed a culture where all disease was thought to be caused by the displeasure of departed ancestors or the curse of evil spirits. Major surgery on the human body or the transfusion of blood from one human being to another was unknown. As missionary fathers and mothers fell sick with life threatening malaria, dysentery or tropical fevers in the 1930’s, the need for doctors and nurses became imperative.
By painting the parasite images on the walls of his classroom in 1949, Dr Noah Mack, Tulane University graduate, effectively taught the science of tropical medicine. His technique produced capable students at the microscope. These men of living Christian faith correctly diagnosed occult parasitic diseases that were missed at other medical centers. The reputation of Shirati Hospital spread throughout the region. Surgeon-Anesthetist team, J. Lester and Lois Eshleman introduced major surgery and blood transfusions in 1952. Medical administrator Dr Merle W. Eshleman carefully chose the first surgical patients so that the new science would be successfully received.
In 1961 came the mobile medical unit of the African Medical and Research Foundation taking medicine to the remote villages clustered among the rocky hills and across the savanna. Daily clinics of 100 to 150 patients received blood, stool and urine laboratory examinations. At night public health movies, and Moody Bible Institute images stimulated the minds of rural villagers to see the function and needs of the human body and spirit. Patients seeking relief promised to them by the mobile medical team soon filled the beds of Shirati Hospital.
A two-mile pipeline brought water from the lake to the hospital since 1953. The American Leprosy Mission sponsored the opening of a colony in 1954, to treat people with the dreaded disease of leprosy. The Medical Research Council of England stimulated and supported young research scientist, Glen Brubaker. Beginning in 1968, he documented the findings in patients with malaria, tuberculosis, and the lymphoma recently described by Surgeon Dennis Burkitt of Mulago University Hospital, Kampala, Uganda. The quality of work in this research laboratory directed by Dr Brubaker is documented in some 35 publications in the journals of Europe and North America.
The sporadic visits of plastic surgeon Michael Wood in 1960 led to the structuring of airborne medical teams to visit Shirati and other hospitals like it, to provide the benefits of medical science in the tropical maladies. These effectual visits four times per year, continue regularly one quarter century later.
The dedication of scores of doctors and nurses, the infinite blessings of Almighty God and the gifts of ordinary people, continue to serve the needy men, women and children in this remote enclave of East Africa.
Shirati Hospital born 70 years ago in 1935, has grown through the adverse circumstances of political, economic and cultural changes but like Serengeti, “It shall not Die!”