President Stanley in Africa
President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. traveled to Madagascar and Kenya this summer to experience Stony Brook University’s commitment to improving lives around the world. During his two-week adventure, he visited three sites that feature some of Stony Brook’s most far-reaching research and development efforts.
Day Six – Northwestern Madagascar
This morning we took a one-hour flight to an entirely different part of Madagascar, landing in the port city of Mahajanga, which was founded by Arabs in the 1700s and is now the most cosmopolitan city in the country. This area, in the northwestern part of the island, is a hot and dry savannah grassland environment, with daytime temperatures hovering near 100 degrees. We came here to see Dr. David Krause, a paleontologist and Stony Brook faculty member in the Department of Anatomical Sciences, who has spent nearly 20 years discovering spectacular Cretaceous Age fossils of dinosaurs and other vertebrate animals south of here. A replica of the skeleton of one of these dinosaurs, Majungasaurus crenatissimus, the top predator of its day, is proudly displayed in the first-floor lobby of our Administration Building, and other fossils from here are in our Hospital’s lobby.
In addition to finding, documenting and analyzing the fossils in this region, Dr. Krause has taken on the role of trying to help the children living in the remote areas in which he works. Prior to his arrival, none attended school or had ever been seen by a healthcare professional. To that end, he established the Madagascar Ankizy Fund (ankizy means children in the Malagasy language), which is administered through the Stony Brook Foundation (www.ankizy.org).
We drove south for about an hour and a half and first stopped in a small, dispersed village called Berivotra (which, in the Malagasy language, means “big wind”). Dr. Krause’s research has been focused in this area and he had arranged for the villagers to greet us. A welcoming ceremony, honoring the American July 4 holiday, took place at Sekoly Riambato, a small, two-room primary school. This is the first school built by the Madagascar Ankizy Fund, about 12 years ago. It serves as the community center. Sekoly Riambato actually means “The Stony Brook School,” so named because the villagers wanted to recognize the role Stony Brook played in helping their community.
Our second stop, about five miles further down the road, was in the village of Ambovondramanesy, where we visited a five-room secondary school built by the Ankizy Fund just last year. (Here too, we were treated to a celebration of July 4.)
Smithtown High School West did most of the fundraising for this school, and for that reason the school is officially called “Smithtown South.” But today it was serving as a clinic, staffed by three Stony Brook faculty members (Drs. Wynn, Willoughby, and Todd) and 11 students from our very own School of Dental Medicine. They are providing dental care to villagers who have never been seen by a dentist. By the end of the three-week mission, approximately 700 patients will have been seen, some of them with life-threatening dental infections. To see our health care professionals in action at home, with access to the latest technology is one thing, but to see them working in a hot, dry, dusty school with generators, portable dental units, etc., is quite another. Despite the conditions, the standards of care are high and the treatment of patients is as good as it can possibly be.
On the way back to Mahajanga, we stopped in a village to visit one of the families Dr. Krause knows well. The visit provided great insight into what life is like in rural Madagascar. The family lives in a 10-by-12-foot grass hut with a palm-leaf roof and a dirt floor. The family cooks with locally made charcoal, which explains why the dry woodland forest that was here only 50 years ago is almost completely gone. The stove is inside during the rainy season, creating a thick, choking smoke that facilitates lung disease. A more severe health problem relates to water, especially during the dry season when the water in the local streams decreases substantially and becomes a haven for a range of bacteria and parasites. Many children under 5 years of age die every year from diarrheal disease. Through the Madagascar Ankizy Fund, several clean-water wells were installed in this community, which has helped, but now an interesting pilot program called SODIS, which utilizes solar UVA radiation to disinfect the water at the household level, is in effect. This looks very promising and has the potential to cut diarrheal disease for young children in half.