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The Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic

Lake Tanganyika is the most important body of water in the world that few have ever heard of.

Surrounded by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, and Zambia, and holding nearly a fifth of Earth’s available fresh water and over 600 unique species, Lake Tanganyika is one of the world’s great eco-systems and also a major source of industrial minerals, timber, and petroleum. More than 12 million people call the Lake Tanganyika Basin their home, with over 3.5 million living directly along the water.

Across sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, the public health picture has been improving; malaria deaths have been halved and vaccination rates are at an all-time high and life expectancy across most of the continent is slowly rising. But not so in the Lake Tanganyika Basin, where aid agencies and government health services find it hard to operate and where improvements are not being felt. The basin is falling far behind the rest of Africa with an intolerably high child mortality rate: one in four children die before they are five years old; life expectancy overall is under 50 years. Most people who live in the basin will never visit a properly equipped clinic with running water and electricity, or be treated by a fully trained doctor or nurse. Consequently, many will die of conditions that are entirely preventable or curable like malaria, typhoid, measles and cholera. Maternal mortality is also extremely high and large numbers of women suffer from a range of devastating but wholly treatable conditions such as obstructed labor and fistula.

The Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic (LTFHC) drives positive outcomes for the Lake Tanganyika Basin by developing efficient models for water-based healthcare delivery and health systems building, improving supply chains and communications capacity and promoting relevant cross-sector development and regional cooperation through active relationships with governments and communities around the lake.

As a result of our key relationships with local populations, ability to work on the ground, and ingenious small scale approach to overcoming formidable problems, the LTFHC is now sought after as a key adviser and partner to the variety of stakeholders coming to understand the basin’s importance across health, energy, environment and economic development disciplines.

We are now accelerating efforts to establish a floating medical- and broader research-facility on Lake Tanganyika to create a hub and spoke system, ensuring supply chains of medical goods, real time cross-sectoral data collection, tertiary level treatment of more complex diseases including surgery, as well as health care worker training to these currently isolated areas.  This ship will be a truly networked solution to the complicated problem of lack of healthcare access is in this remote area, building primary care capacity and providing specialty care as the ship circumnavigates the lake.

LTFHC’s programs have impacted some 350,000 people in the basin so far and as we grow, the potential to save lives is monumental: if there are 12 million people who are living in the Lake Tanganyika Basin who can be treated for all the preventable and public health diseases as well as the direct issues of maternal health, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives over the course of the next ten years.

Through ongoing policy initiatives, including our most recent white paper “Water-based Health Care: Have We Missed the Boat?” LTFHC’s impact reaches far beyond the lake and into the global policy space, allowing us to work with myriad stakeholders to bring local knowledge and community needs to the fore, as well as transparency about crucial issues that heretofore have not been widely understood nor discussed publicly.

For more on our current programs and priorities, please visit our website. To support our work, please click here.

Amy Lehman
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