Walking more than 60 kilometers over a steep, high-elevation landscape while carrying 30 kilograms of medical supplies on his head, Dr. Shemagembe’s first assignment was to reach remote villages suffering from a measles outbreak.
Recently we entered Ngorongoro Conservation Area to meet with Dr. Shemagembe, an incredible individual who has been serving Maasai communities for 31 years. As an employee of the Tanzanian government, Dr. Shemagembe was first placed to work in this region in 1987, when the above outbreak of measles threatened the lives of hundreds of children.
Today, the doctor lives and works within the conservation area. Each month he travels from village to village with his team of nurses to erect a mobile clinic. What has started out as an early childhood vaccination program has grown to include women’s health and family planning services. Thanks to Maasai Partner’s donation of a collapsable tent, which can act as a private examination room, Dr. Shemagembe and his team can now also provide maternity counseling.
Vaccinations are having a huge impact on the lives of Maasai living within the conservation area. More and more children are surviving due to their immunity to diseases such as measles, polio, typhoid and diphtheria. Preventable deaths are being minimized, and children have the opportunity to live full lives. With these improvements, Dr. Shemagembe brings attention to the growing population within these villages.
He organizes education projects that teach about family planning options, although he notes there is some push-back from the local community of how to incorporate family planning into their lives. Children are seen as evidence of wealth and prosperity, and the men hope to have many sons to carry on their line.
The women, who are the primary caregivers for the children, are much more accepting of the ideas of birth control. Luckily, women in the villages are able to receive birth control during the mobile vaccination clinic, even if their husbands disapprove. Allowing women the right to choose when to have children greatly increases their independence and agency.
Dr. Shemagembe hopes to continue increasing the services provided at the monthly mobile clinic. He hopes to expand his team to include a clinician and additional nurses to treat patients of common ailments in the field.
While Dr. Shemagembe has big dreams for what he can bring to Maasai communities within the Conservation Area, he often finds himself limited by lack of funds. We at Maasai Partners are inspired by the doctor’s commitment and are working to fundraise to support his goals.
Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog about a recent visit to a mobile clinic.