LSHTM research interns raise over £1,600 for MRC The Gambia Patient Access Fund

LSHTM Research interns Kimberly Morren and Meike Siemonsma
Kimberly Morren and Meike Siemonsma

We are Kimberly Morren and Meike Siemonsma, and at the end of 2022 we raised money for The Gambia Patient Access Fund at the MRC Unit The Gambia (MRCG). We came to The Gambia to work as research interns at the Nutrition and Planetary Health Theme of MRCG. As part of our MSc programme in Nutritional Epidemiology & Public Health at Wageningen University (the Netherlands), we had to do an internship, and we were both fascinated by the work done at MRCG.

Through a professor from our school in the Netherlands, we were introduced to LSHTM’s Professor Andrew Prentice, who arranged a placement for both of us. During our time in The Gambia, Meike worked for six months on several projects on non-communicable diseases in West Africa, while Kim worked on projects related to iron supplementation and genomics.

MRCG conducts research on nutrition, infectious and chronic diseases, immunology, and the effectiveness of vaccinations in West Africa. On top of that, The MRC Unit provides essential primary healthcare to the local community via their clinic in Fajara. Quality healthcare is difficult to find in The Gambia, and many people rely on the clinic at the MRCG for high-quality care at affordable prices.

Basic healthcare can be offered at a low cost through subsidies and donations. However, more complex procedures such as ECGs, X-rays, or CT scans are often unaffordable for the local population and therefore cannot be performed even when necessary. To be able to offer these procedures, MRCG needs money, so they established a Patient Access Fund where money is collected to provide local people with the high-quality care they need.

When we lived in The Gambia, we experienced how important the Patient Access Fund is. Colleagues who worked at the clinic even chipped in themselves when patients could not pay for certain procedures. When we heard about the Patient Access Fund, we decided to contribute to this cause in addition to our research at MRCG.

Fundraising for the MRC Unit

We decided to sell postcards to raise money for the Patient Access Fund. We set up a website where our friends and family at home could donate money and pre-order the cards, and we also printed out cards in The Gambia to sell them to tourists. In restaurants along the beach, we talked with many tourists about the Patient Access Fund and convinced them to contribute to this cause. It was quite a challenge to approach strangers and ask them for money, but it was worth it. Most people appreciated the effort and were willing to hear our story and buy the cards. Through our efforts, we raised £1,400 with the online fundraiser and £250 with the local fundraiser.

Postcard to raise money for Patient Access Fund
A selection of the postcards we have been selling to raise money for the Patient Access Fund
Cards printed in The Gambia to sell to tourists
Cards printed in The Gambia to sell to tourists

Our fundraising was a success because it was a cause close to our hearts. Being in The Gambia and getting to know the country and its people made us realise the challenges the country still faces. Limited access to healthcare is certainly one of them. As we saw first-hand how vital the MRCG's work is in these clinics, we were able to explain to others why they should donate, and our enthusiasm helped convince others to donate.

Screenshot of Dutch website of the fundraiser “Koop een Kaart” (Buy a Card)
Dutch website of the fundraiser “Koop een Kaart” (= “Buy a card”) to raise money for the Patient Access Fund

Being able to make a direct impact was a rewarding process. What also helped was to not only ask for money but also give people something small in return. What's not to like about postcards with beautiful pictures of The Gambia (made by ourselves)? Especially for tourists. These postcards also included a QR code to donate, and some information on the Patient Access Fund. We hope that if someone receives these postcards, they might also consider donating, resulting in a snowball effect. We would definitely consider doing this again, and we hope that sharing this story will inspire others to donate to this cause or set up a fundraiser themselves!

If you have any questions or want to know more about our fundraiser or research, don’t hesitate to contact us on LinkedIn.