(Top left) The Lifeline
Malawi entrance; (Top right) founder Dr Chris Brooks
being examined by Hannah, a young patient; (bottom)
and clinic staff
All photos courtesy of Lifeline
If Dr Chris Brooks were running
a for-profit hospital, his picture would be plastered
on the front page of every business magazine as CEO
of the year.
So rapid has been the growth of
the private clinics he founded and built in Malawi that
in seven years he has gone from dispensing medicines
from the back of a Toyota truck to building two permanent
clinics in the impoverished south African country. He
employs 80 full-time paid staff, has 50 volunteers in
Calgary and across Canada and treats a mind-boggling
100,000 patients every year on a shoestring budget.
Dr Brooks who along with
his wife Heather and their now 12-year-old daughter,
Chloe, left a comfortable medical practice and life
in Calgary after hearing a Malawi missionary speak at
First Assembly Church about nine years ago says
the last year has been remarkable.
"One year ago, we saw our one-hundred-thousandth
patient in the history of Lifeline. This year
one year later we saw another 100,000 patients.
When I think about that I have to pinch myself and say,
'Am I hallucinating?' But I'm not. We're now treating
100,000 patients a year."
And saving tens of thousands of
This is all done in buildings he and his staff have
had to build themselves, with bricks they make themselves
and with a total of 10 nurses, three medical officers
(who can perform medical procedures despite not having
a medical degree), a pharmacist and field director,
Pat Laforet, originally from Toronto.
Lifeline also has hired mechanics
to keep their ramshackle fleet of vehicles working on
the bumpy roads of Malawi, as well as construction workers
to build staff housing and additional rooms onto the
Ngodzi and Kasese clinics.
The 69-year-old British-born doctor
says the organization's plans for growth are organic,
flowing directly from the immense needs of Malawians.
"If I had the capacity in funding
and people, we could expand our healthcare interventions
in Malawi and that is the desperate cry we hear
all the time," he says.
"I have to stand before these people
who have tears in their eyes and who plead with me,
'please open a clinic near us,' but we just can't do
Patients at the Family
All photos courtesy of Lifeline
DOC ON THE BLOCK
Visiting Calgary for his annual fundraising tour that
will have him deliver dozens of speeches to churches
and service clubs across Alberta and Ontario, his blue
eyes sparkle when he points out an important milestone
for Lifeline in November it hired its second
doctor in a country with only about 100 permanent physicians
for a population of 16 million people.
"So now we have two doctors," says
Dr Brooks. "One is me, old and decrepit, and the other
is Dr Haldon Njikho. He's 36 and a Malawian, full of
vim and vigour and a compassionate heart." By hiring
another doctor, Dr Brooks now has more time to fundraise
and meet with Malawi government officials.
His big hope this year is to raise
enough money in Canada about $130,000
to buy an x-ray machine, something considered utterly
basic in Canada but that he has been forced to do without
all these years.
The organization also needs hundreds
of thousands of dollars more to pay for drugs, staff,
well drilling, and so on.
The organization, governed by a
volunteer Canadian board of directors, has also approved
the building of a $150,000 maternity wing at the Ngodzi
clinic, which a Calgary couple has pledged the money
"In Canada there are six maternal
deaths for every 100,000 live births. In Malawi there
are 1,800 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births,"
says the good doctor.
But the big killer is still HIV/AIDS.
As a result of last year's fundraising
campaign in Calgary, enough money was raised to purchase
two CD-4 counters machines that help determine
if an AIDS patient needs to go on life-saving anti-retroviral
drugs, something Lifeline started distributing, with
the help of Samaritan's Purse, RockPointe Church and
Health Partners International Canada, long before other
NGOs were doing so. This helped Lifeline to arguably
become the most well-respected medical NGO in Malawi.
"We used to just make a clinical
decision, but thanks to the CD-4 counters we now know
that we were underestimating the need for anti-retrovirals,"
says Dr Brooks. Fully 20% to 23% of the patients Lifeline
treats are HIV positive. "It's a pandemic."
When one considers all of this
was accomplished under what the Cambridge-educated general
practitioner calls "the factor of nine law," it's even
"In Malawi, it takes three times
as long to accomplish one-third as much as it would
take in Canada," he says. "The electricity goes out,
the shipment doesn't arrive, the phone wires get stolen,
there's been no cement in the country for the last two
months and on and on it goes. But it's all worth it."
"If Canadians could meet the people
of Malawi, who are so gracious and kind, even though
they are so sick, they would be moved to help."
Donate online at www.lifelinemalawi.com
or send a tax-deductible donation to 210, 1289 Highfield
Cres. SE, Calgary T2G 5M2.
Reprinted by permission of Sun Media