Family embraces mission and medicine

Dr. Joe Starke spent two years practicing medicine in Ghana about fifteen years ago. After leaving Ghana, his family, including his wife and six children moved to Columbia where he joined the Columbia Surgical Associates working with CSA at Boone Hospital for the next 12 years. With time however it became clear to his family that their missionary days were not over.

After some research, he found Galmi Hospital in the Sahel, a poor region of West Africa. The Starkes and their three youngest children packed their bags in 2009 and moved to a small community in France for a year to master the French language. After a year of preparatory French, the family moved to Niger, West Africa in 2010.

Dr. Starke practicing in Niger.

The area is plagued by serious food shortages, which in turn affect the health of the people. Niger is consistently ranked at the bottom of United Nations Development Index. There is only one doctor for every 30,000 people in Niger. If Missouri had the same doctor to population ratio only 200 doctors would work in our state rather than the more than 12,000 who do currently.

“Because the people there are so poor they are reluctant to expend the resources to seek medical care until the last minute, So when they arrive at the hospital they are often in really bad shape,” said Dr. Starke.

Besides performing surgeries at the hospital, Dr. Starke is also pioneering a program though the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons. He is creating a rural hospital-based residency program for West African doctors to become surgeons. The first two doctors will begin their five-year residencies this August.

It is the sixth program of its kind and the first one for Galmi Hospital. Dr. Starke said he values working with doctors from all over Africa and around the world at the mission hospital.

When asked about some of the biggest differences in practicing medicine between Niger and Columbia, Dr. Starke sums it up as “resource-limited medicine.”

“There are fewer tests we can do and fewer medications we have to treat our patients. We’re always looking to do the most with what we have,” explained Dr. Starke. “The lack of resources is one of the biggest challenges, not having enough supplies, trained personel or even consistent electricity.”

Dr.Starke notes another distinction is the types of sickness he sees. Dr. Starke mentioned tropical illnesses like malaria and typhoid, tuberculosis and HIV, which are often complicated by severe malnutrition and are much less prevalent in the United States.

The Starkes plan to stay in Africa for the foreseeable future; at least until the residency program is successfully underway. The whole family has enjoyed adjusting to the lifestyle and culture of West Africa.

“For us, it’s very gratifying,” said Dr. Starke.” We enjoying living and working in another culture, it isn’t for everyone, but we feel it is a job for which we were created and called to do”

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