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A trip to Mufulira

The markings stencilled on the 500 kgs net drum standing at Gate 1 of Mopani’s Mufulira mine and smelter complex was quite clear: ‘Seven billion dreams, one planet. Consume with care’.

As MMTA members may know, I have been travelling to Mufulira in the Copperbelt for ten years after I first discovered that ordinary citizens of the county of Somerset in UK had been doing so since the 1990s. This trip I am here with Guy Darby of Darton Commodities (Chairman 2009-12) to follow up on projects in the community supported by MMTA members’ donations.

But first, no trip to Mufulira would be complete without a journey down the mine to understand the reason for this town’s existence – that is, 1507 metres down, a descent to the face where the various grades of chalcopyrite, bornite and malachite are mined. Started by the British in 1932, about equal in depth to KCMs Konkola Deep, these are the deepest copper mines in Africa. But, having grown irregularly and incrementally over the years, to chase the ore, Mopani’s aim is to increase efficiency via a new vertical shaft which will ultimately run to 2000 metres.

Guy and I have two main aims. The first is to view progress on the water project at Kamuchanga District Hospital on the outskirts of Mufulira. A few year’s ago, MMTA members’ donations funded three water tanks whose joint purpose was to feed the new laundry equipment provided by the government. On arrival we see hospital bedlinen, blankets and medical apparel safely washing, spinning and drying (a change from only a few years ago when washing was provided by a ramshackle motorised washing cylinder that had left its factory in Uxbridge in the 1950s). Although the laundry is a success, the supply of water to the rest of the hospital remains poor because movement of water around the hospital is held up until pipes are renewed. During our stay, our group meets with the Mulonga Water Company and a representative from the Ministry of Health to plot the way forward. On this same visit, we are also heartened to see that the anaesthetic machine supplied with MMTA members’ funds is in operation with surgeons about to scrub up. Before this donation, the hospital had no means to carry out urgent Caesarean sections for late showing pregnancies.

Our second aim is to meet our two MMTA sponsored medical electives from the UK, Josh Hulman and Helen Wanstall. A few years ago, I was contacted by a GP from Chester, Dr Robin Gleek, who had completed his overseas elective in Mufulira in the 1970s and wanted to return to the town. I was able to introduce him to the Acting District Health Officer, Dr Charles Chiponda and, as as a result of this visit, together with Robin, we have developed a scheme to fund 2-3 medical doctors per year to visit Zambia to complete their NHS training. The young doctors from the UK are allocated to the main general hospital in town called Ronald Ross – so named after the renowned British medical doctor who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the transmission of malaria.  Their purpose is to gain experience of medical practice in a developing country, while the locals gain assistance and valuable interaction with UK practices. Our first elective was David Clayton from Glasgow and I am on a mission to deliver two Littman stethoscopes and two sphygmomanometers bought by him, one set of which is to be delivered into the hands of the supervisor during his stay in 2016 and the other to the senior doctor. Guy and I hand these to Dr Tshula Tumba and Dr Matabile. Lack of government funding means there are shortages of incubators, life-support equipment, cleaning fluids for sterilization of mattresses, some vital medicines (the hospital has only three phials of morphine), hospital furniture, anti-biotics, and quinine (the lack of which would surely make Ronald Ross turn in his grave). Meantime, our young medics are seeing cases of pneumoconiosis (the miners’ pulmonary disease), AIDS, TB and malaria. Their role is clerking (booking in patients and making assessments) and learning to make diagnoses under supervision but without the benefit of the extensive testing equipment that we might take for granted in the UK.

In this short piece, I am unable to give more than a passing reference to the many aspects of Mufulira that we have seen but I hope that, through the foregoing, I have been able to communicate some of the benefits that have arisen from the MMTAs twinning with this mining town which remains for me a symbol for all mining communities around the world who feed us with the metals in which we trade. If you would like to be involved in any aspect of this work or would like to talk to someone about ways in which you can specifically help and assist, or indeed visit Mufulira, please feel free to contact me at lipmann@lipmann.co.uk, Guy Darby at  gdarby@dartoncommodities.co.uk or Maria Cox (maria@mmta.co.uk). I thank all members whose donations have achieved so much and also thank Mopani for the mine visit.