LATER this week a group of Canada-based medical professionals will visit Zimbabwe to offer health support to the country.

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Francis Garwe

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A first trip of its kind, the project was initiated by two Canadians looking to help their homeland.

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“The huge part for me… is being able to give back in whatever way and whatever form to the communities which we came from,” said Francis Garwe, who does organizational development with Northern Health.

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Northern Health is a publicly funded healthcare provider for the Canadian province of British Columbia.

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Garwe was born in Harare, where the 29 medical students, nurses and physicians are headed Saturday.

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He said the other organizer, Ray Markham, is already in the country making sure everything is set up. Markham, who is a physician in Valemount, met with Zimbabwe’s ministry of health last spring and started the wheels turning.

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“We identified that there were a lot of areas that were under-served in terms of basic medical health,” said Garwe, adding they identified three rural areas where they could have the most impact.

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“It’s home for us. We see the need that communities are really crying, yelling for that kind of help – the medical support.

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Some of the work will be in the area of primary care – like dressing wounds or talking nutrition – but the main focus will be on maternal and children’s health, and area Garwe said has major gaps in the country.

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He said there should be long-lasting effects after the group returns in early April.

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“The bigger part is focusing on capacity building within the community,” Garwe explained.

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“Having the ability for the community to take the work, going forward, using the skills that they’ve learned from the team here and continually enhancing on those skills to serve their own communities.

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The experience will be a valuable learning opportunity for physicians and nurses used to a North American health system.

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“(They) have an opportunity for them to learn how is it done from a tropical medicine perspective and have that knowledge also to bring here and share,” said Garwe.

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Bobbi Batchelor is one of the medical students taking part in the trip. For her two weeks, she’ll be working at the University of Zimbabwe in the area of infectious diseases.

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“It’s going to great to have hands-on experience with diseases we don’t necessarily see here in Canada and also see how a different health care system works,” said the fourth-year student.

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“Infectious disease doesn’t really have borders.”

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Batchelor said she’s excited to travel to Zimbabwe, particularly to the Victoria Falls, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

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Aged 26 Batchelor said she’s happy to travel in a group context, especially with people who know the region, but has been studying the medical context in preparation for her trip.

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“I’ve just been studying and getting familiar with what I will anticipate seeing,” she said.

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“What do we know about the demographics of those diseases in the country?”

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While she’s unable to predict what she’ll see, Batchelor will work in the HIV clinic and expects she may come across malaria, yellow fever and genghis fever.

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She’s already hearing from students interested in the travel opportunity – something she said is good for the northern B.C. campus.

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“What I’m looking forward to most, actually is that this is going to open the doors for future northern medical program students to get involved in a trip like this,” said Batchelor, which she cost of around $3,000.

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For Garwe, he has every intention of keeping the program alive and expects to debrief with the group when they return about challenges and suggestions.

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“This is going to be one of many trips,” he said.

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This article was originally published by The Prince George Citizen.