Apparently no one ever told Jenny McConnachie that, at age 70 and with seven grandchildren, she is supposed to be playing tennis and doing lunch. Because every day she gets up and does what she’s been doing for the better part of two decades — going to work in a garbage dump in South Africa, bringing critical tuberculosis testing and medication to the poorest of the poor.
Thirty years ago, Jenny and her husband Chris (he’s Scottish, she’s a Brit) were living a comfortable life with their five kids in a big, rambling house in Henderson, North Carolina. Chris was an orthopedic surgeon; Jenny was a nurse. But the couple was called to do something more, so in 1984 they packed up the entire family and moved to Mthatha, one of the poorest regions in the Eastern Cape of South Africa (and Nelson Mandela’s hometown) to start African Medical Mission. http://ammsa.org
Chris was the only board-certified orthopedic surgeon serving a population of 4 million, and he and Jenny worked tirelessly to improve the local hospital, before and after apartheid ended –until she saw an even greater need.
Five miles out of town, on top of an abandoned garbage dump called Itipini, 3,000 people, mostly women and children, had set up homes of cardboard and corrugated metal. Itipini’s residents have no electricity, no public transportation, no sanitation, and only 2 water pumps. What there is in abundance is disease –specifically, HIV/AIDS (over 25% of the populace is infected) and TB, which is treatable and curable, but left untreated can kill an HIV-positive person in weeks.
The problem is, the people of Itipini are a five-mile walk from any medical care, particularly critical TB care. So in 1992, Jenny decided to bring care to them. Using abandoned shipping containers powered by generators, Jenny set up a clinic, hospice, kitchen, pre-and afterschool programs, and a community garden. For almost 20 years, she has been the community’s only health care provider (with her assistant Dorothy) and she sees about 50 patients a day, five days a week, working diligently to make sure that TB patients finish their course of treatment.
Although TB is virtually non-existent in the West, it is a scourge in developing countries. South Africa has the fifth highest incidence of TB in the world. A full 75% of new TB cases in South Africa affect people co-infected with HIV, and TB is the number one killer of HIV-positive South Africans. Yet TB can be cured with a long series of treatments that must be taken daily; multi-drug resistant and extensively drug-resistant strains of TB may develop if patients start and stop treatment. Which is why the work that Jenny does in Itipini is so critical to stopping TB in its tracks.
Dr. McConnachie passed away in 2007, but Jenny continues the work of African Medical Missions every day. Because this is Global TB Day, my $100 today goes to African Medical Mission and the extraordinary woman on the front lines of dispensing love. (With special thanks to Joanne O’Sullivan for sharing this story with me.)**Most of these beautiful photos were taken by Jesse Zink — to see more visithttp://mthathamission.blogspot.com.