Into Africa, Out of Academia

A Doctor’s Memoir

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About the Book

In 2006, Kwan Kew Lai left her full-time position as a professor in the United States to provide medical humanitarian aid to the remote villages and the war-torn areas of Africa. This memoir follows her experiences from 2006 to 2013 as she provided care during the HIV/AIDs epidemics, after natural disasters, and as a relief doctor in refugee camps in Kenya, Libya, Uganda and in South Sudan, where civil war virtually wiped out all existing healthcare facilities.

Throughout her memoir, Lai recounts intimate encounters with refugees and internally displaced people in camps and in hospitals with limited resources, telling tales of their resilience, unflinching courage, and survival through extreme hardship. Her writing provides insight into communities and transports readers to heart-achingly beautiful parts of Africa not frequented by the usual travelers. This is a deeply personal account of the huge disparities in the healthcare system of our “global village” and is a call to action for readers to understand the interconnectedness of the modern world, the needs of less developed neighbors, and the shortcomings of their healthcare systems.

About the Author(s)

Kwan Kew Lai is affiliated with the Harvard Medical faculty physicians and currently divides her time working near the Boston area in clinical medicine and volunteering with various humanitarian organizations in disaster response or in refugee camps all over the world.

Bibliographic Details

Kwan Kew Lai
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 262
Bibliographic Info: 50 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7972-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3867-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments viii
List of Abbreviations ix
Preface 1
Introduction: 2005, The South Asian Tsunami, My First Mission in
Medical Volunteering 5
Part I—HIV/AIDS Epidemic and
Medical Care in Africa, 2006–2013
1. Tanzania: 2006, Mentoring in Rural Mtwara with the Clinton
HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) 12
2. Uganda: 2006, Teaching at the Infectious Disease Institute, Makerere
University in Kampala, Uganda 37
3. Kenya: Following the 2007 Presidential Election 46
4. South Africa: 2009 63
5. Nigeria: 2009 81
6. Malawi: 2013, My First Mission with Médecins Sans Frontières 98
Part II—Medical Care for Internally Displaced People and Refugees in Africa, 2011–2013
7. Back to Uganda: 2011, The Nakivale Refugee Camp 142
8. Libya: 2011, Arab Spring 154
9. Kenya: 2011, The Drought and Famine of the Horn of Africa 170
10. Uganda: 2012, The Nyakabande Transit Refugee Camp for the
Democratic Republic of Congo 185
11. Unity State, South Sudan: 2013, Providing Medical Care after the Civil War 200
Afterword—Non Ministrari sed Ministrare 225
Chapter Notes 229
Bibliography 237
Index 245

Book Reviews & Awards

• “I had the honor of training at Boston City Hospital at the same time as Kwan Kew Lai, and have marveled since how she has time and again volunteered to be at the front lines, whether it is in the aftermath of a tsunami or on the heels of Ebola. Her keen observant eye and her passion give the reader a glimpse into the world of global health and the heroic figures who try to make a difference.”—Abraham Verghese, MD, author of Cutting for Stone

• “The global shortage of doctors is one of the biggest health issues that hardly anyone is talking about. Enter Kwan Kew Lai, a daring doctor who writes movingly about what it’s like to do volunteer work in some of the poorest places in the world.”—Tony Bartelme, The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina

• “In this moving book, Kwan Kew Lai provides a round-the-world journey that reveals both the hard truths and inspiring humanity of global health. Bold and clear-eyed, Lai does not mince words. Her honesty reveals the interconnectedness of the world, and roles we can all play in it.”—Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error

• “An impactful and detailed insider account of the health systems in some of the most remote parts of the world. With each chapter and location that Lai brings us to, we are given profound insight into the moral and practical complexities facing health care workers and their patients living and working in these severe and trying circumstances.”—Jessica Alexander, author of Chasing Chaos: My Decade in and Out of Humanitarian Aid

• “Intrepid, resilient, and resourceful Dr. Kwan Kew Lai shares her experiences as a physician volunteering in Africa to treat patients and train local medical providers in the care of HIV-infected and other patients. She works with skill, compassion, and calmness under conditions of war, epidemic disease, drought, extreme poverty and deprivation. The descriptions of the clinical settings are vivid, raw and real. Yet she never fails to see the beauty and wonder of Africa as she explores the bush, swims in the waters, captures the wonder of the wild animals with words, and summits the highest peaks of Africa—carrying the reader along on one adventure after another. The landscape, flora, fauna and feelings are fresh and alive. The food and customs and traditions are part of the many stories within her story. Life and death are intertwined. This is a marvelous and inspiring book—and should be required reading for those who are considering volunteering for medical humanitarian missions. The work can be difficult, dirty, demanding, and dangerous. Those who persevere must retain hope and have a high threshold for despair. Dr. Lai captures the beauty and hardship, the joy and sorrow, and the reality of her extraordinary experiences.”—Mary E. Wilson, MD, clinical professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco; adjunct professor of global health and population, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts