Marcela is firstly a wonderful person and also a fantastic doctor: if you think of a doctor working with MSF you think of someone like her. She is totally dedicated to the patients, she would be first to the clinic and we would have to drag her out in the evenings, often reminding her to eat. Marcela had endless positivity, energy and spirit – when the rest of us were shattered she would be planning a weekend adventure. In the community Marcela bought school uniforms and started a MSF house loose change fund in order to give money to patients so they could afford to come back for treatments. She always found a way to do one more good thing for someone.
Doctors and lab staff often have a love hate relationship, but Marcela had the lab wrapped around her finger, bringing us cake and nice words so the staff would even stay late to finish a test just for Marcela. I utterly admire and respect Marcela and am proud to have someone so amazing as part of my MSF family.
Marcela is originally from Argentina yet hardly needed any arm twisting to write this piece for me, and even more kindly to write in English since I can’t read Spanish (Portuguese or French all of which Marcela does…) So without more ado – over to Marcela
How do you know Vix
I remember when I first meet Vix …..I just visualize a very nice and endless conversation in a Swaziland bar, with her and Diana (my favorites “Lab Rat” in the world!!…….)
Since then we shared many crazy adventures, as the weekends in Nwempisi, being chased by an Elephant while driving a car at Hlane park, cooking apple-pie, going out in Maputo, sunburnt ion Mozambique beaches at the incredible Lagoa of Quissico…..
And was amazing to work with her!, with a luxury lab just next to the consultation room, where I could ask the tests with just extending the hand with the blood tubes to the next door, or have a GeneXpert result in only 2 hours’ time!…….she did a great job with a great local team!
(GeneXpert is a test which diagnoses Tuberculosis and tells you if the bacteria the patient has will respond well to the main drugs, it’s a pretty awesome test compared to the century old method of looking down a microscope)
How did you first hear about MSF?
I hear in Argentina, from some friends that were working in other NGOs. Then when I was almost finishing my specialty in infectious diseases, MSF just open an office in Buenos Aires, so I got in contact with them for the recruitment.
Tell us about yourself and your background with MSF? – how long, where, doing what, Why etc etc?
It is a very long history…I have been working for MSF in many projects for more than 14 years: first in Mandera, Kenya, in a project for malnourished children. It was one of the best experiences and one of the hardest one, I had no background in pediatric care and less malnutrition (I am infectious disease doctor!)…
Then I went to Kuvango, Angola, “a morar no mato!” (to live in the bush!), for a project in a health center (with all type of needs and diseases: meningitis outbreaks, vaccination program, tuberculosis, malaria…), after again Angola in Matola, for a Malaria outbreak………then Malawi (Dowa), in HIV project; Kenya (Busia) in an HIV project, in 2007 I went to Maputo, Mozambique, as HIV doctor to decentralize the HIV care in health centers of the city. In 2008 I went to Greece, to work in a project with migrant in Patra and Mitilini island, 2009 to Colombia, in Buenaventura and Tame-Arauca attending population affected by the conflict, 2010 Yemen (Sanaa city), to open a project of HIV care (addressing problems of stigma and providing comprehensive care to the patients), 2011 Swaziland, first in Nhlangano project (rural clinics) attending patients with HIV and Tuberculosis (including multi-drug resistant tuberculosis) and then in Matsapa clinic (urban settings), where I meet Vix!
From 2012 till 2016 I have been again in Maputo, Mozambique, working with patients with Tuberculosis and drug resistant Tuberculosis…..
From the missions I have the best memories. One of the most wonderful thing about MSF is the people you meet (local and expats), where you develop very strong relationships…..the other is the close contact with the patients, the people, the community where you are working, learning a lot and growing from the interchange with other cultures, other ways of living, other realities, other ways of experience and see life…..It is a great school!!
Tell us about a “typical” day with MSF
There is no “typical day”, since can be very different according to the settings and the type of mission. But in general I work as field doctor, so one of my “typical” day is to see many patients, and at the same time while doing consultations I also do on job training with nurses, and many “multitask” things (as going to the laboratory to send samples and collect results, patients groups, interacting with other colleagues to solve different problems, and some meetings……usually no time for lunch! (I take the lunch after 15 hours, sometimes 16-17 hours…)
What I enjoyed more from the work is the contact with the patients, though some time is challenging, and demands a lot of energy, it is so much what you receive…..they are a source inspiration and strength to overcome the disease and the difficulties they have in life…….I admire them so much!
What has been your biggest achievement through working with MSF
Many “small” but great achievements! …..I always remember one of my first missions in Angola, where with the team we were many time frustrating writing the same objectives for next month over and over again because we couldn’t achieve them! Everything was going so slow…..one of my colleague compared it with the Kizomba dance: you go one step forward but then one back, one to the sides, to then go again in front……but at the end of some months it was so much what it was achieved! The health center where we worked was improved so much, with many beds for in patients, vaccines for the children!, treatment for tuberculosis…..that really make you feel that the team work makes a difference for many life’s….
What are the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges are to work without all the things you need…..sometimes you don’t have access to laboratory, but the worst is when you don’t have the medicines you need……In my last mission in Mozambique, we were having many patients with Extreme drug resistant tuberculosis and we did not have the proper medicines to treat them……it took more than one year to receive them, and by the time they arrive to the country we were not allowed to use them because of problems of regulations……I left the mission without being able to start the patients on the right treatment, and many of them died …..it is really sad to have the patient in front of you and not being able to have the resources to treat them…..
(XDR TB or extreme drug resistant TB is a growing problem where the bacteria infecting a patient is no longer killed by the normal treatments, there has been so few drugs developed over the last 100 years that it is difficult and expensive to treat people with these bacteria and people who are not treated can continue to spread the XDR bacteria to friends, family, children, strangers, it’s a huge public health nightmare)
What do/did you miss most from home when you are an MSF mission?
Friends and family!, though you get new friends and “MSF family”!….
Why should people support MSF’s work around the world
I think is one of the NGOs that really goes to the field and work towards patients, It is very well known and is helping a lot of people around the world……I am very impress that wherever you travel, any country you go, when I say that I work for MSF everybody knows the institution……
I just want to thank all the people I meet during all this years with MSF!!, all my friends, colleagues, all the patients for all the wonderful moment shared and the incredible influence that everyone had in my life…….
And really admire Vix initiative, I am also a walker and love trekking around the world! …..I wish you all the best!
You can read more about Marcella, in Spanish here sophia131.pdf