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Gates does his part to lock up malaria
KINGSTON While North Kitsap Fire & Rescue medical officer Tim Gates has been treating North End residents for nearly two decades, he recently was able to use his skills in another part of the world that needed him just as much, if not more.
A member of the Portland, Ore.-based Northwest Medical Teams, Gates was offered the chance to work in the country of Sudan in Africa, for a month, serving in medical clinics and helping provide care to patients.
Gates, a well-traveled man who has worked in Israel, Vietnam and Iraq on various missions, had never been to Africa before and viewed the experience as a unique opportunity.
I saw it as a huge privilege, he said. The question was, Why not go?
Gates left the comforts of Kitsap on Sept. 1 and landed in Al Gineina, the capital of the Darfur region in Sudan, several days later, entering a very different medical, social and political world.
Because of ongoing fighting between Sudanese government and rebel groups, 1.5 million people had fled their homes and escaped to other villages, camps or the neighboring country of Chad. These people, often referred to as Internally Displaced People or IDPs, made up a large portion of the patients Gates helped treat. In one village, Um Tjok, the population had been 6,200; it is now up to 14,000 with the IDPs, he said.
Because the Sudanese government doesnt have enough resources to cope with growing health problems, it has allowed non-governmental agencies, such as Northwest Medical Team, World Relief, Food for the Hungry and others to provide disaster relief and development, which Gates believes benefits more than just the stricken countries.
There has been disaster for sure but its opened the worlds eyes to the situation in Darfur, he said. They need some help.
Gates base camp was Al Gineina during his stay, but he would travel to medical clinics in the villages of Um Tjok and Sanitadi for three or four days at a time.
The primary efforts were to provide medical care, clean water and sanitation.
Water and sanitation goes hand-in-hand with medical because the spread of disease is such a problem living in close quarters with so many people, Gates explained.
A typical day in the clinics included treating patients, introducing new ways to test for malaria, providing clean water and sometimes transporting patients to other clinics where more advanced treatment was available.
The conditions Gates was working in were far from the cool temperatures of the Northwest. He dealt with 100-degree temperatures, traveled on dirt roads, took medicines himself to prevent catching malaria and slept under mosquito nets in empty classrooms or outside.
Working in the country also meant adapting to the culture. In Al Gineina, Gates ate traditional foods, which included falafel-like dishes with beans, chicken, vegetables and fruits, reminding him of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods. He would take raisins, peanuts and pita-like bread on the road. In the home of one doctor, he had a meal that consisted of a hot, pasty substance with sauce made from dried okra.
However, he was occasionally able to find a piece of home, like a Washington-grown apple.
That was a huge treat to come back from a four-day trip to find fruit, Gates said.
Regardless of the conditions, Gates cherished his time down there.
They are a wonderful people, he said, noting that the locals were grateful for the help. Seeing the absolute genuine gratitude from everybody, seeing that someone was there trying to help just that made it worth it.