35 years later: Saint Francis’ - revisited
Eleanor (Denham) Faulkner
On September 1st 1971, I flew out to Zambia to work at St. Francis Hospital as a VSO midwife for 17 months. The experience was a positive one in many ways for me. Later I qualified as a midwifery tutor and spent 27 years in midwifery education. Throughout that time, the experiences I had whilst working as a midwife at Katete both enriched and informed my teaching. September 2007 was to be our 25th wedding anniversary and we decided to go on an extra special holiday. After a few false starts, we booked to go to the South Luangwa Park – my husband, previously doubtful, was much attracted to the website of Shenton Safaris. From there I suggested we might revisit the hospital. Ian Parkinson assured me that past members of staff were welcome to visit and so we called there for a 40 hour visit on the way home from a most wonderful safari.
Journeying from Chipata to Katete I was surprised to see how few vehicles there were, with most people either walking or cycling. Katete Stores has grown immensely, both in the number of shops and houses behind the shops, with many more people. Turning into the hospital road, there were more houses and again, more people. However, the Christ-thorn filled triangle with the large crucifix at the entrance, the circular drive and the frontage to the hospital were unchanged as was the well-used path through the middle of the circle.
In many ways the hospital itself did not seem to have changed very much at all, apart from having grown - more patients, more staff and more wards, more buildings. When I left, the new maternity ward (Bethlehem) was nearly completed and what was St. Mary’s maternity ward is now the Physiotherapy and Records Departments. The number of deliveries has nearly trebled, from around 1000 to about 2800 now. The new children’s ward, Mbusa Wa Bwino, was built in the early 90s replacing one small, often overcrowded buildin,. The isolation ward, St Luke’s, is now General Out-patients.
The presence of HIV was perhaps the biggest change of all. Many people were wearing tee-shirts printed with slogans relating to HIV/AIDS. There were posters about prevention and vehicles belonging to HIV prevention/treatment teams in the hospital grounds. I accompanied Dr. Shelagh Parkinson on part of her round in the children’s ward and witnessed a discussion between her and the young Zambian pharmacist about the supply of anti retroviral drugs. In the 1970s, the diseases which brought young children to the hospital were malaria, malnutrition and TB but these have now been joined by HIV.
Another marked change became apparent when we walked into what was the Sisters’ Mess. The building was the same, but the 10 young people who we met at meals there, were all young medical or nursing students from Holland, Denmark and England. They were gaining experience during elective periods and, from their accounts, they were certainly doing that! There are now no Europeans in any of the senior nursing and midwifery posts which is a great credit to the work of the nursing and midwifery schools at St. Francis and elsewhere in Zambia. I was also delighted to meet the Zambian consultant obstetrician who has worked at the hospital since 1996.
As far as the training of nurses and midwives goes, I was sorry to hear that the numbers of students taken into training has had to be increased because many qualified staff leave Zambia to work in countries where they are better paid. This is quite understandable but is a serious loss for the training hospitals and for Zambia as a whole. It was a great pleasure to meet Mrs Chipungu, who teaches both the nursing and midwifery students and Sister Charity who is the midwifery clinical teacher. There is a great shortage of suitable books for the school libraries: many had become very outdated - and I hope to be able to help provide some for the Midwifery school.
In the environs of the hospital there were many more staff houses. To the east of the hospital buildings, there is a thriving vegetable market, including several small tearooms, on the way to the area where the patients’ relatives stay. The accounts and printing department are to the west with a large enclosed workshop to the north. The chapel looked much the same from the outside but is in great need of rehabilitation: the floor and walls are badly damaged by tree roots. However, it is obviously a much used building. In the evening, we heard some wonderful singing and drumming coming from inside - we went in to listen – it was a choir practice for a special Mothers Union gathering. The next afternoon a minibus arrived with MU members from Chipata and elsewhere: again there was singing and a very colourful gathering.
No-one I met during our stay could have known me in 1971-2, but one person knew several of the people with whom I had worked – apart, of course, from James and Faith whom most people knew. Patson, now a cook in the Mess came to the hospital shortly after I had left and he remembered Jo Markham, Jo Peart, the Egertons, Jeff and others. Patson had worked with Nick Egerton for a while and he remembered planting many of the flowering trees that now grace the grounds.
This was only a very short visit but we are very grateful to the Parkinsons for arranging for us to be met and housed and to those who showed us round, answered our questions and made us welcome. My 17 month contribution to the running of this hospital is fairly insignificant but I still feel part of its history. My husband and I hope to continue to support the vital work that goes on there in the future.