At the beginning of March, I had the opportunity to attend a Partners In Health (PIH) event taken place in Boston University.  The guest speaker was Samson Njolomole, PIH representative in Malawi who came to Boston to share his personal story as an HIV patient and to speak about his work as one of PIH’s leaders in the field. When Samson was young his father asked him to go to the community clinic to get checked out for HIV because he was very skinny and got sick often. In doing so Samsom was diagnosed with HIV. The moment he got diagnosed with HIV he thought his life was over. However, his perseverance and the care provided by the community health clinic helped him get his HIV under control. He became a role model for his community as he demonstrated that HIV is not a terminal illness when one receives appropriate care, is compliant with medical therapy, and is determined to not let HIV take over one’s life.

Samson joined PIH (Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (APZU) in the Chewa Language) in 2007 as a translator. Identified for his compassion, defense of human rights, and strengths as a community organizer, Sam quickly rose to become HIV Program Coordinator.  Currently, he serves as the External Relations Manager. He is the primary liaison between PIH/APZU and local and international partners and communities. Moreover, PIH/APZU began to work with the Malawian Ministry of Health in the rural Neno district.  The collaboration between  PIH/APZU and the Malawian government has provided comprehensive healthcare services to about 125,000 people.

The reason for Samson’s visit to Boston University was to promote what the program does and the needs of the program. The PIH handout states, “Partners In Health works to bring health and social justice … not as an act of charity but as a fulfillment of fundamental human rights”. PIH tries to fulfill the basic socio-economic human rights by providing primary healthcare services, housing, and food packages to those who really need it. PIH goes the extra mile by employing people to accompany patients to and from the clinic. When a patient misses an appointment, those whose job is to accompany patients, check up on the patient to know why they missed the appointment. PIH has a strict policy of patients missing appointments as it is very costly to have a doctor scheduled to see a patient and funds are limited.

PIH cannot provide the Neno district all the adequate healthcare resources by themselves; they need donors to be able to support the services they provide to various communities. PIH generated 88 million dollars from donors but they actually invested 117 million dollars because of urgent needs in Malawi and Haiti. There are many nations who have no community health clinics and if they do, the clinics are not accessible to all the residents.

This event allowed me to understand in more details what community health is about. Community health is about working as a unit to reach one ultimate goal: to provide optimal care to all who need it regardless of where they live or their financial situation. Accomplishing this goal is not easy. There needs to be more funding to provide adequate healthcare and the governments need to help organizations such as PIH.  However, the economic crisis is placing many barriers.  Regardless of the financial constraints, it is important for everyone in the community to understand  they have a role to contribute to the healthcare of the population. The role can vary by person, but  the ultimate goal of providing optimal care to all in the community remains the same for everyone.