204 MMM E-Newsletter May/June 2021

204 MMM E-Newsletter May/June 2021


MMM Communications, Rosemount, Booterstown, Dublin. Ireland. Tel :353-1-2887180 Fax:353-1-2834626
To contact MMM Email: mmm@mmmworldwide.org

Number 204 - May/June 2021

Dear Friends,

As we continue to deal with the consequences of COVID-19, we pray that you, our readers and those close to you, are well. It is distressing to read of the situation in countries such as India and Brazil, where medical care and vaccines are currently insufficient to meet the needs of our sisters and brothers. We urge governments, and others who are able, to share their surplus resources with those less well off. In the long term all of us will benefit.

On 15 May we mark International Day of Families. This year’s theme is ‘Families and New Technologies’, focussing on the impacts of these technologies on family well-being. Its website says that responsive family-oriented policies are needed to harness the positive aspects of trends and counteract their negative ones.

It points out that the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of digital technologies for work, education and communication, and has accelerated changes that were already underway. It has led to innovative ways of working and to increased flexibility for both employees and employers. Still, new technologies have had some negative consequences, such as ‘screen fatigue’ and cyber bullying. With school closures and increased demand for working from home, there are growing concerns over parental burnout linked to long-term negative impacts on child well-being.

International Day of Light is observed on 16 May. It reminds us of the central role that light plays in our lives. Without it, life on our planet would not exist as we know it. Using photosynthesis, green plants and certain other organisms capture light energy and use it to convert water, carbon dioxide, and minerals into oxygen and energy-rich organic compounds.

According to the event’s website, the date is the anniversary of the first successful operation of the laser in 1960 by physicist and engineer, Theodore Maiman. This led to many advances in medicine and other fields. Light has made possible alternative energy sources, light-speed internet and other discoveries that have revolutionized society and shaped our understanding of the universe.

Small wonder that God’s first words in Genesis are: ‘Let there be light’ (Gn 1:3). As Christians we follow Jesus, who said, ‘I am the light of the world’ (Jn 8:12 NRSV).

International Day to End Obstetrical Fistula on 23 May has particular significance for MMMs. Our Sisters and staff in Itam, Nigeria, have a ministry to women affected by this childbirth injury, including awareness-raising, repair camps and rehabilitation. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls around the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, are estimated to be living with obstetric fistula because mothers do not have access to timely, quality medical care. The real tragedy is that fistula is almost entirely preventable.

We celebrate the Feast of the Visitation on 31 May. It is a special day for the MMM Congregation. As part of our healing mission, our constitutions urge us: ‘Ponder in your hearts the mystery of the Visitation. Be inspired by Mary’s selfless love, her simplicity and faith, as she goes in haste to answer a human need, bringing with her the light that is life...Let your particular concern be the care of mother and child and the fostering of family life.’

MMMs and Associates around the globe come together for reflection, prayer and to enjoy meals together. MMM Sisters renew their vows by devotion and Associates often renew their covenants on this occasion.

On 5 June we celebrate World Environment Day. Pakistan will host World Environment Day 2021 in partnership with the UN Environment Programme. This year has the theme of ‘ecosystem restoration’ and focuses on resetting our relationship with nature. World Environment Day is the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people across the world.

The government of Pakistan plans to expand and restore the country’s forests through a 10 Billion Tree Tsunami spread over five years. The campaign includes restoring mangroves and forests, and planting trees in urban settings, including schools, colleges, public parks and green belts.

World Refugee Day on 20 June honours the strength and courage of refugees. They are people who have fled war, violence, conflict, persecution or natural disaster and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, every two seconds, somewhere on the planet, someone is forced to flee for safety.

The day encourages public awareness and support of people who have had to flee their homelands. Too often the world views their plight with indifference, or even hostility. Our MMMs and Associates often work with refugees and are acutely aware of the challenges they face. As the UNHCR website asks, ‘If we were in their shoes, how would we want to be treated?’

In this newsletter you can read the stories of two of our Sisters who celebrate 50 years of commitment as Medical Missionaries of Mary in 2021. Four MMMs in an earlier stage in their journey renewed their commitments to God and to God’s people. We bade farewell to one of our long-standing ministries in Tanzania as we began to respond to a new need in that country.

Thank you for your ongoing interest and support. We remember you and your intentions in prayer each day.

Yours sincerely,

Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM

‘Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new....

‘Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that [God’s] hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete’
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ- priest, paleontologist, theologian and philosopher).


A Time of Jubilee

If 2020 was a year of lockdown, with a halt to all communal celebration of jubilees, 2021 is not looking too hopeful either!  However, a virus cannot halt the passage of time.  So this year we give thanks for the many years of service to MMM and the Church of five more Sisters who are celebrating their Golden Jubilees this year.  Sister Sheila Campbell has given us snapshots of two of them. 

Sister Ann White
When Sister Ann White, from Slane, Co. Meath, a small town not too far from Drogheda, entered MMM in 1968, she was a flaming redhead and freckled. The perfect picture of an Irish colleen! The years may have tempered the hair, but it has not changed her zest for life and her enthusiasm for the care of the sick. 

Ann is the seventh child in a family of nine. When she left school she worked in a solicitor´s office in Drogheda.  It was there she met MMM and was attracted to them because they were medical, not teaching, and they also went abroad. After her initial religious formation, Ann upgraded her education. Then she did general nurse training in Drogheda and midwifery in Scotland. She has fond memories of the year away in Scotland. 'I took good advice,' she says. 'I didn't let my studies get in the way of my education!'

Ann´s sense of humour has stood her in good stead throughout the years, as she often found herself in difficult situations. In 1978, Ann went to Brazil. Her first assignment was to the city of São Paulo. She later moved south to Parana State and finally to the drought-stricken northeast of Brazil, in the state of Bahia. She loved her time in Brazil and feels that the people taught her a lot. She admired their great courage and strength as they sought better lives for themselves and for their families. 

Now back in Ireland, Sister Ann still ministers with the sick. She cares for our elderly and infirm Sisters, bringing them to hospitals for medical appointments. She enjoys gardening, reading and walking. Celebrating her jubilee Sister Ann says, 'I am grateful that my life has been blessed in so many ways.'  

Ann believes God has been with her throughout her life and has a deeper conviction of this as she celebrates her Golden Jubilee.

Sister Catherine Young
Sister Catherine Young is tall and elegantly dressed without being too fashion-conscious. She has an air of graciousness about her and is unfailingly kind. Many who know her say she is someone to go to for sound advice. She loves walking. Her other hobbies are swimming, reading and doing crochet.

Catherine grew up on a farm in Borrisoleigh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. She was the second youngest in a family of eight children and helped out on the farm as needed. After school she joined the Irish Civil Service but returned home to help her mother after the sudden death of her father. Coping with loss and bereavement at a young age opened Catherine to see pain and suffering in the wider world and a desire to help. When MMMs showed a film in her school about their work with people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in Africa, she knew she had found her future!

Catherine joined MMM in 1968. After first profession her group stayed behind in Drogheda for a year, helping in the kitchen and with other housekeeping tasks. Then she did her general nurse training in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and midwifery in Scotland.

Nigeria was Catherine´s first missionary assignment. She enjoyed her time there but frequent bad bouts of malaria made it unwise to continue there. After sixteen years she returned to Drogheda and looked after our sick and infirm Sisters.  Catherine always enjoyed nursing and the Sisters appreciated her attentive care.

In 1994 Catherine travelled again, this time to Ethiopia. There she had to learn a new culture and a new language.  Catherine says, ‘I am slow to settle into a place but when I do, I give it my best.’ Ethiopia was to be Catherine´s home for the next eleven years until she returned to Drogheda for yet another new mission.  

Since 2006 Sister Catherine has been attentive to the needs of Sisters returning from their mission assignments. Sometimes it is just for a short break, but they often need help with medical appointments. She also keeps in touch with Sisters’ family members who are ill or bereaved and guides those who are transitioning into retirement in Ireland. Again, Catherine´s innate kindness and capacity for understanding have been valuable gifts for this role.  

In recent years Catherine has been called into leadership positions. ‘I find leadership a challenge,' says Catherine, ‘and I have made lots of mistakes.  But they are all part of life and I am grateful to God and to my family and Sisters for all the support and love I have received and continue to receive each day.’ 

Jubilee celebrations this year are uncertain, but she knows she will find a way to celebrate with family and friends.


'For We Walk by Faith' (2 Cor 5:7 NRSV).

On 1 March 2014, five women made first commitment in the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Ibadan, Nigeria. At that time they received their first mission assignments. Our MMM Constitutions state that one of the aims of the time of first commitment is for a Sister ‘to develop deep and true convictions about her religious missionary life, which will enable her to grow to full maturity in Christ through the various experiences which MMM life offers.'

These women came from a variety of cultures and experiences. They had completed the first phase of their initial formation in their own countries before coming together for their novitiate in Ibadan.

Sister Christine Natweta, from Uganda, had trained as a midwife and worked in Kitovu Hospital before joining MMM. Sister Magdalene Upev, from Nigeria, was a nurse/midwife by profession. She worked at the School of Nursing and Midwifery Sick Bay, Makurdi, before her postulancy in Itam, Nigeria. Sister Chinenye Imoh, also a nurse/midwife from Nigeria, worked for about a year before joining. Sister Leticia Enujuba, from Nigeria, also trained as a nurse/midwife and lectured as a nurse tutor before her postulancy.

Danielle Darbro, from the United States, had trained in social services and worked in community facilities before completing her postulancy in New York. After several years of dedicated service in Honduras after first profession, she discerned that her vocation lay elsewhere. She is still in contact with MMM. 

Saying ‘yes’ every day
The intervening years have continued to be a time of testing and discernment for Christine, Magdalene, Chinenye and Leticia. Their mission assignments have brought them to places of great challenge.

Sister Christine has served in Tanzania and Masaka, Uganda. She was then assigned to Malawi but COVID-19 restrictions delayed her travel until February this year. In the meantime she volunteered in Masaka Regional Referral Hospital.

Since her initial assignment to Fuka, Nigeria, Sister Magdalene has served in Wau, South Sudan. She was present for the opening of the MMM Healing Centre in Wau in May 2018. The Sisters and staff have continued services despite planning difficulties due to COVID-19 and political uncertainties.

Sister Chinenye spent several years in Zaffé, Republic of Benin. Our health centre there provides basic health services, with a special focus on mothers and children. She came to Ireland in September 2020 to upgrade her nursing qualification to BSc level. With Sisters Nwanneka Uduh and Cecilia Kanulor she is studying at University College Cork.

Sister Leticia has served for several years in Benin City, Nigeria, where she has been involved in the MMM Benin City Integrated Project. There is a development centre for women’s empowerment, a vocational training centre for youth, and a primary health care section. With COVID-19, many activities were cancelled but the Sisters did awareness-raising and provided face masks and hand sanitizer for the public.

The God of surprises
Regarding first commitment, our MMM Constitutions continue: ‘During this time a Sister shall renew her vows annually, until she makes perpetual profession.’

Soon after arriving in Malawi, Sister Christine told her community that she was due to renew her vows on 1 March. The Sisters planned a special Eucharist for that day. Christine wrote of the strangeness of renewal during COVID-19. ‘We all had to wear masks. I could never imagine singing and pronouncing vows through a mask!’

The parish priest, Fr. Francis Taylor, SPS, was happy to celebrate the Mass and MMMs from Kasina joined Christine's community in Lilongwe. Also present were Sisters Teresa Mulenga, a Teresian Sister, and Hilary Chombo, of the Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They work for African Sisters Education and Collaboration (ASEC) and Higher Education for Sisters in Africa, in Malawi, supported by the Conrad Hilton Foundation. Christine had completed the first part of the ASEC course in Uganda and was hoping to do the second part in Malawi. 

She noticed Sister Teresa taking photographs during the Mass but only discovered the reason for this afterwards, when Sister Teresa asked Christine for an interview. Christine wrote, ‘Sister Teresa said she also works for a radio station and uses occasions like this for mission awareness and vocation animation. This was an opportunity for the Medical Missionaries of Mary to feature in the media. She asked me to share who we are, what this celebration was about, and something about me and my experience of renewing my vows.’

Alert to opportunities
The interview would be broadcast on radio so women could learn more about MMM. They might be interested in joining us or in sharing our healing charism as Associates. The programme was to be translated into the local language and sent to another radio station, Radio Alinafe, as well. 

Christine exclaimed, ‘What a beautiful way to start my mission in Malawi! I was taken by surprise but I thought that regardless of the challenges of COVID-19 I saw the hand of God in everything. On this special day I remembered and prayed for my companions.’

On 1 March, Magdalene Upev also renewed her vows in South Sudan and Leticia Enujuba renewed in Nigeria. Chinenye Imoh’s renewal, during Mass in Dennehy’s Cross, Cork, was live streamed. Parish priest Father Bertie O’Mahony, who celebrated the Mass, commented that though the celebration itself had to be private, they were united with MMMs and friends throughout the world. 

Sister Christine said that afterwards ‘we encouraged each other and shared how our celebrations went in each place. We also remembered Danielle Darbro, that God will bless her abundantly wherever she is. We thank God for sustaining us on this journey. We are deeply grateful to all those that have supported us and journeyed with us.’ 

Before Sister Chinenye read her formula of renewal, Father O’Mahony said, ‘We wish her peace and a wonderful future with God’s help.’ We echo his words for all these Sisters and congratulate them for taking another step forward in faith in their lives as Medical Missionaries of Mary.  


A Legacy of Healing

Our MMM story in Tanzania is one of small beginnings, developing services according to need, and moving on when the time seems appropriate. This is our role as missionaries. In almost 75 years, MMMs have developed, worked in and handed over several clinics and hospitals in Tanzania. These facilities are still providing services and doing well. We continue our involvement in basic health care in three locations in the country and have branched into other areas of need, such as palliative care and dealing with human trafficking.

Our first foundation in East Africa was made in Tanzania (then Tanganyika) in 1947. The first three Sisters worked in a rural dispensary in the remote village of Tlawi, on the eastern wall of the Great Rift Valley.

Monsignor Patrick Winters, a Pallotine missionary from Ireland, was responsible for running the Prefecture Apostolic (now Diocese) of Mbulu. He asked for more MMMs and in 1948 we took over a church dispensary at nDareda. It developed into a general hospital that we handed over in 1987. In 1952, we opened a hospital at Kabanga in Kigoma Diocese, close to Lake Tanganyika, that we handed over in 2004.

Always other needs
Monsignor Winters was concerned for the people around the village of Makiungu, in a semi-desert area near the town of Singida. He dreamed of having a hospital there but felt that MMM was becoming overstretched. We would need to withdraw from Tlawi. This we did in 1954, which meant we were able to move to Makiungu.

Today Makiungu Council Designated Hospital for Singida District (Rural) covers the needs of the population within a radius of about thirty-one kilometres, with patients often coming from outside the catchment area. It employs about two hundred local health workers.

The Sisters and staff have seen countless changes and experienced many ups and downs over the years: times when there were very few patients, and funding and food were scarce; other times when the Flying Doctors Service arrived, bringing specialized care to thousands. There was a visit from the late President and Founding Father of Tanzania – Mwalimu Nyerere - who cut the ribbon to open a new ward block when he came to Singida Region in 1970. Sister Doctor Brigid Corrigan described it as ‘the happiest of days with the whole place spick and span, the nurses in sparkling white and the MMMs looking their very best.’

The development of the original dispensary to the present-day hospital is a testament to the many MMMs, AMMMs, staff, students and volunteers from many countries, donors both internal and external, and government representatives who worked closely with us. Its reputation was built up as a facility providing reliable quality services to people from different groups, religions, and backgrounds.  

Reading the signs of the times
More recently, after much prayer and reflection, MMM leadership felt that the time had come to hand over the programme to the Diocese of Singida. The event took place on 31 March 2021.

Because of the distance involved, MMMs, a postulant and a driver from Ngaramtoni arrived the night before and stayed with the MMM community in Mangua, Singida. Sisters arrived from Nangwa on the morning itself, with an MMM Associate, a postulant and driver. Also present at the ceremony were MMM Area Leader for East/Central Africa Sister Maria Gonzaga Namuyomba, First Councillor Sister Angela Lyapa and Councillor for Tanzania Sister Sekunda Kimario.

The proceedings opened with Mass in the local parish church. Rt. Rev. Bishop Edward Mapunda, Bishop of Singida, was chief celebrant.  Among those assisting were the parish priest of Makiungu; the diocesan vicar for religious; the hospital administrator and accountant, the incoming doctor-in-charge of Makiungu; and the local dean. Many elders from the Makiungu area attended, together with representatives from the hospital and district health officers.

Representatives of MMM carried the offertory gifts: bread and wine; an aloe vera plant, representing healing; a globe; an MMM emblem; the hospital keys and the handover report. Sister Angela explained their meanings.

Bishop Mapunda spoke highly of the contribution of MMM to Makiungu since our invitation there by Bishop Winters. The chairman of the Makiungu Parish Lay Council, the Member of Parliament for Singida East, and the Regional Medical Officer also spoke. Sister Maria Gonzaga read out a special letter from Sister Siobhan Corkery, MMM Congregational Leader, that reaffirmed the vital role that the MMM Sisters had in Makiungu Hospital since its foundation.

The handover followed in the hospital assembly hall, after remarks by outgoing doctor-in-charge, Sister Doctor Magdalene Umoren, MMM. The documents were signed and witnessed and the keys of the hospital gate and convent premises were handed over to the bishop. The outgoing MMMs and Area Leader received gifts and all participants enjoyed a delicious meal.

Always in our hearts
All the Sisters left the hospital and went in procession to Makiungu Parish graveyard to greet, pray and say farewell to Sister Dolores Kelly, who died on 5 May 1992. Her wish was to be buried there and she had chosen a palm tree to overlook her final resting place. It was now after 6 p.m. and the Sisters left Makiungu for Nangwa and Mangua.

The experience of ‘letting go’ of a hospital in which MMM Sisters invested so much of their time, skills, and commitment was not easy, and the prayerful and practical support of the Congregational Leadership Team, the MMM Resource Team and the entire congregation was felt in a very real way. Those who were present will always remember the final day as a precious experience.
One door closes; another opens. While the time has come to handover Makiungu Hospital, we have plans to open a school for pharmacy assistants in Ngaramtoni. We pray that MMM will continue to have the spirit, faith and courage of Mother Mary Martin, to follow Christ in paths that are new.

Combatting Fake Drugs in Tanzania

MMM is planning to set up a training course for pharmaceutical assistants in Ngaramtoni, Arusha, Tanzania.  What is the need for a course of this nature?  

In an article in Pharmaceutical Technology on 16 December 2020, Chloe Kent noted, ‘Counterfeit products are a global problem and fake pharmaceuticals are no exception, making up the world’s largest fraud market worth over $200bn per year. Large scale fake drugs trafficking requires considerable financial and human resources, but small isolated traffickers engaged in localised illicit sales are also a substantial part of the problem.’

Peter Mwai addressed the problem of fake drugs in Africa in BBC Reality Check on 17 January 2020 (bbc.com/news/world-africa-51122898). That week there was a meeting of representatives of seven African countries in Togo to combat the problem. He quoted the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying that 42% of all fake medicines reported to them between 2013 and 2017 were from Africa.  

The WHO has a reporting mechanism that relies on national or regional regulatory authorities around the world to notify it of drug seizures. So the data for 2013-2017 are only as good as the surveillance and reporting systems in the countries or regions concerned. The WHO noted that as more officers were trained and national regulators became more aware, the numbers of drug seizure reports went up.

Mr. Mwai stated that analysis by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that substandard and counterfeit anti-malarial drugs could be causing 116,000 extra deaths from the disease every year in sub-Saharan Africa. A similar study in 2015 by the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that in the same region more than 122,000 children under five were dying every year because of sub-standard anti-malarial drugs.  

In Medical Product Alerts in 2019, the WHO warned populations about fake meningitis vaccines in Niger and fake drugs for treating hypertension in Cameroon. In August that year, counterfeit versions of the antibiotic Augmentin were discovered in Uganda and Kenya.

Being part of the solution
Since 2005, MMM Sister Zita Ekeocha, a pharmacist, has been involved in a joint programme with Purdue University/Kilimanjaro School of Pharmacy (KSP) to train pharmaceutical personnel to certificate level (two-year course), to technician level (three-year course) and to postgraduate level.  Training is done is collaboration with Tanzanian government plans.

Officially known as the Capacity Building Program in Biotechnology Innovation and Regulatory Science (BIRS) in Africa, it has also been offering courses at degree level since 2014 that will enable development and manufacture of quality medicines. Many of the graduates of these programmes have joined the regulatory bodies of their respective East African countries, helping to spot and seize counterfeit medications.

Looking at the local situation
MMMs in Ngaramtoni have been examining the problem of counterfeit drugs for some time. They were aware that in Arusha Region members of many ethnic groups delayed attending modern medical services. They used local herbs as first line treatments without knowledge of doses or side effects.

Attitudes are changing, and with increasing education and urbanisation more people are using pharmaceutical products to treat illnesses. However, with the increasing use of 'Western' medicine problems arise.  There are not enough qualified personnel to dispense medicines in health centres, dispensaries, and hospitals.  Unwritten government policy is for all pharmacies to have at least one trained staff member at the appropriate level in order to be registered.   

We decided to help meet the needs identified by the government and complement its efforts by providing a training institute. There is no similar training facility within Arusha Region and neighbouring regions of Manyara.

In establishing a school for pharmaceutical assistants, we are drawing on the wide experience of Sr. Zita and of Dr. Eamonn Brehony, an MMM Associate for many years. Since 1999, Eamonn has taught development and project planning in our training centre in Ngaramtoni.  

Other development goals will be addressed, including the empowerment of young people. Youth unemployment has become a concern in Tanzania, especially among urban youth and young women.   

First steps in a larger project
This project is the first step in a much bigger scheme to improve health care in Tanzania. With other organizations, universities and church authorities, MMMs are exploring ways to help young people move from basic level education into higher academic qualifications. It may be possible to initiate a pilot project for the production of quality drugs for Tanzania.  It will be Tanzanian-owned and controlled, which is important for long-term sustainability.  Congratulations to MMM in East Africa for the vision and the courage to embark on this journey!

The WHO offers the following information to identify a substandard or falsified medical product:
Some counterfeit medical products are visually almost identical to genuine products and are very difficult to detect. Nevertheless, many can be identified by:
•    examining the packaging for condition, spelling mistakes or grammatical errors;
•    checking the manufacture and expiry dates and ensuring any details on the outer packaging match the dates shown on the inner packaging;
•    ensuring the medicine looks correct, is not discoloured, degraded or has an unusual smell;
•    discussing with your pharmacist, doctor or other health care professional as soon as possible if you suspect the product is not working properly or you have suffered an adverse reaction; and
•    reporting suspicious medical products to your National Medicines Regulatory Authority.

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