A life-changing decision
Following Debbie’s death, Simon was devastated, and compelled to do something life-changing for others: "I searched for something to do, something relevant. I read an article in The International Herald Tribune which talked of pneumonia being the biggest killer of children under five-years-old. It reported that two million children die of the disease every year, mainly in Africa and Asia – and how most of these deaths were avoidable with simple medicine. Discussing this with a friend, and given the linkage between pneumonia, children and Africa, the friend mentioned the work of SOS Children."
Simon went on to meet with the SOS Children UK's Director of Development who told him about the new SOS Children’s Village currently under construction in Chipata, in the Eastern Province of Zambia. Simon was especially interested to hear about plans to launch an SOS Children's Mobile Medical Clinic, the first-ever to be commissioned by SOS Children worldwide.
The planned medical clinic, a 3.5 tonne specially equipped Toyota bus, would carry a clinical officer and two nurses who would provide diagnoses and life-saving medicine to thousands of families a year in rural communities surrounding Chipata. Equally important, the medical clinic would ensure children could be immunised against common childhood diseases that often kill unprotected children.
The province of Chipata is remote – hundreds of people have to walk many miles for any medical treatment, and often don’t get it when they arrive. Many are too ill to make the journey. Life expectancy is 45 years and one in seven children die before their 5th birthday.
The dream becomes reality
Simon was riveted by the idea of the mobile clinic and says: "I was focused on how I could help SOS Children tackle preventable death like pneumonia, and this was the answer."
Simon began looking for ways to fundraise for the clinic and started calling upon his friends and family. He started running marathons and inspiring others to start fundraising, too. Eighteen months later, he had raised £100,000 and in November of this year, he was present for the SOS Children Mobile Medical Clinic launch in Zambia.
The commissioning of the appropriately named ‘Debbie’s Bus’ in Lusaka took place in a major shopping mall where the public were invited to walk through and inspect the mobile clinic. In a party-like atmosphere, the celebration included SOS Children’s Village Lusaka children singing and dancing, as well as a performance by a majorette group. Simon expressed his delight in seeing the clinic come to fruition and was visibly moved by the reality.
The bus arrives in Chipata
However, the best was yet to come. The bus was driven across Zambia to Chipata where it will be based, and then proceeded to one of SOS Children’s Family Strengthening Programme (FSP) communities, Mchini. On arrival, Simon was greeted by a group, singing and dancing amidst a huge congregation of local people who came to see the clinic. Once again, Simon spoke about his pleasure at seeing the bus, but also shared the very heart-rending story of his loss. Immensely moved, a group of mothers spontaneously came out from the crowd, singing and dancing their thanks to Simon as they approached the table of dignitaries. It will be these mothers' vulnerable children who will be treated; for many of the children, their lives will be saved. Clearly they were extremely grateful.
Hundreds flock to receive treatment
The following day, 'Debbie’s Bus' went on its maiden outing to another FSP community, Magazine. Stocked with medications for diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and antibiotics for a range of infections, the clinic and staff were well prepared for what they met, but surprised by the numbers – there had been no forewarning of its arrival.
Tens of mothers, fathers and children emerged from their homes and congregated around the bus in the hope of being treated: A grandmother with her two grandchildren, one suffering from malaria and the other with an ear infection and bleeding from the nose; a mother with HIV/AIDS with her two children, one positive and the other not yet tested but very ill; and a father with his five-year-old daughter who was rapidly losing weight.
Within an hour and a half, 49 children and mothers had been registered, seen by the nurses and given appropriate drugs. Another 13 more serious cases were further examined and treated by the clinical officer. Two of these children were critically ill.
Already, in one brief afternoon, 'Debbie’s Bus' provided life-saving treatment to scores of desperate families, and had given hope and reassurance to a community desperately in need. Simon was overwhelmed – happy that he had been able to do something so valuable for so many, but recognising that there are so many more who will need help, and many who we will not yet reach with this bus alone. This is just the beginning.
Watch the video!
Watch events unfold as the Mobile Medical Unit is launched in Chipata: