Imagine going to the hospital with a serious illness and finding out that the basic machines and medicines needed to treat you simply weren’t there. It’s hard to imagine, but in parts of the developing world, particularly in Africa, that scenario happens all the time.
It’s also why Dan Dewey and Kevin Bergman, two friends and fellow doctors, founded World Altering Medicine – an organization dedicated to providing medical care to needy patients, particularly children and families, in the developing world. Founded in 2006, WAM has already made incredible strides in changing the medical landscape in the communities where they work – and they are just getting started.
Julie Nusbaum, who is WAM’s Marketing Director (and Kevin’s sister) took a few minutes to speak with Repair the World about the dire medical conditions in Malawi and other parts of the developing world, what inspired her to get involved with WAM, and how kids and teens can make a significant impact on their work.
What was the inspiration behind World Altering Medicine?
The organization was founded by two ER doctors who did their residencies together, Dr. Dan Dewey and my brother Dr. Kevin Bergman. Throughout medical school Kevin did volunteer work in Africa and Dan had served with the Peace Corps. They could not believe what they saw in hospitals in Africa, and particularly Malawi.
In Malawi the child mortality rate is very high, and a lot of that has to do with the lack of oxygen concentrators in emergency rooms. A large percentage of the illnesses in Africa have respiratory components and if kids can’t breathe, they can’t get treated. Without oxygen machines, doctors literally had to choose which patients to treat based on who they thought had the greatest chance of survival. That’s why one of the first projects WAM did was take a small amount of seed money to buy 22 oxygen machines for hospitals – that’s our Breath of Life program.
Find out more at the video below:
What other services and programs does WAM provide?
We have volunteer doctors going over to Africa for 2-4 weeks at a time to provide medical services in cooperation with the hospitals. We went to the government and asked what was the neediest community that needed help, and through that have started a relationship with a rural hospital about an hour outside of the capital. It’s on a road that is barely accessible in the rainy season, and when WAM first started working there, they didn’t even have a full time doctor. The community has something like 200 births a month and laboring mothers had to lay on the concrete to wait because there were only 10-15 beds. This is a public hospital! We’ve been able to raise money to ship them a container of medical supplies. We also started an emergency fund to help families keep kids in the hospital when they can’t afford it.
More recently, we launched a partnership with the high school to have a scholarship program. There are lots of AIDS orphans in Malawi and school is not free – it costs something like $50 for four years of high school, and many kids can’t afford it. Our Education and Empowerment Project pays for kids to complete their studies, and engages kids and teens in community service.
Can you share a story that demonstrate’s WAM’s impact?
Believe it or not, the hospitals routinely run out of medicine. It’s hard to imagine that from a Western perspective, but it happens all the time. WAM partners with a pharmacy to buy and ship medicines to the hospitals. There’s a story of a woman who came in with complications with her pregnancy and had very serious bleeding. Often, hospitals don’t have the medicine needed to help curb bleeding, but when she came in, we had just ordered the medicine and she was able to be treated. Without it, her child would have been an orphan.
What inspired you to work for WAM?
Service is in our family’s blood. Our father works for the Jewish Federation in Florida. My sister Lisa is the National Director of the Schusterman Family Foundation and chairs the Board of Directors at Repair the World. Kevin is a doctor, and I’ve always been deeply involved in my community in Rochester, New York. As the organization started to grow we realized it had amazing potential to do great things, but we needed to ramp up our marketing efforts. This was something I really wanted to do – it was a perfect fit.
Tell me about WAM for Kids?
We have had several kids contact us directly about raising money for the organization. Three years ago, an 8-year old boy organized a bike-a-thon around his neighborhood and raised $4,000 for us! He had known someone with a breathing problem, and wanted to raise money for Breath of Life. We also had a group of girls from Brooklyn who raised money through a clothing drive two years in a row. Through these amazing kids, we realized that children are just this incredible resources. When they see injustice in the world, they want to get involved and do something about it. So we partner with schools, synagogue youth groups, bar and bat mitzvah kids – really anyone who wants to get involved. Their support makes our work so much stronger.