It's not often in life you are left alone in a darkened room for the best part of two weeks. But in late April that's exactly what happened to me after my travels in Africa resulted in a nasty virus. I ended up in isolation at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. I was very ill for a while but the nursing throughout was superb. When the day came to leave, the goodbyes were genuine and heartfelt.
Unlike earlier hospital experiences while working in the USA, I walked out of the hospital - no wheelchair. No paperwork or bills either, just a sense that the medical team were pleased to have cared for me successfully - a job well done.
But the experience reminded me, as if I needed reminding, just how important the work of Send a Cow is and how very different this experience would have been if I was a poor farmer living in rural Africa, a long walk from a medical centre, let alone a well-equipped hospital.
I recalled the main hospital in Bujumbura, Burundi that I had seen just a few weeks before. It was once a magnificent Belgian built complex but now it's very run down. The staff are dedicated and caring; working incredibly hard to do the best for their patients despite the circumstances.
But being a hospital patient in Africa means more than having to take time out from your daily life. It can mean ruin for a family if a vital earner of the family's food is hospitalised for weeks on end. And there is the added expense of getting the patient to hospital in the first place and then catering for their needs. Hospital resources are often so scant the family have to provide meals for their loved ones and the bedding too. That means another potential earner is routinely camped out at their bed side so more income is lost.
So being seriously ill in Africa is something that needs to be avoided and that's where programmes like those delivered by Send a Cow can help. In the first place it's very simple. Bodies need nourishment to fight disease. Helping the poorest grow their own food and eat properly means they are better equipped to stave off illnesses. Of course there are some sicknesses that simply cannot be avoided - we know HIV, TB, cancer, heart disease and malaria all take a terrible toll. There are also operations that need to be undertaken, disabling accidents or infections that need to be cured.
But a properly fuelled body can restore itself all the faster and it's something most of us with a nutritious and varied diet take for granted.
Another way to help Africa's poorest avoid extreme illness is to help them address their living conditions. Training families in hygiene is essential in reducing disease and infection. Ensuring access to safe water and latrines also reduces outbreaks of diarrhoea and vomiting. And fuel efficient stoves, rather than cooking by open fires, reduces the risk of serious respiratory illnesses like pneumonia which kill millions every year, as well as protecting the vulnerable from death and disability through accidental burns.
Then there is the housing. When poor families have the confidence and support to become self-sufficient and are eating twice a day, they start selling the surplus and developing small businesses. Soon they are building robust homes with tin roofs to protect them from the sun and the rain and furnishing them so they no longer have to eat and sleep on the earth floor. And with solar technology, they are no longer in the dark - illuminating their homes and buying radios to access the wider world.
In a very short time Send a Cow families start sending their children to school. And it's those children who go on to fulfil dreams - many of them wanting to lead professional lives helping others through careers like medicine.
I know from the World Health Organization's (WHO) African Regional Health Report 2014 that healthcare is improving right across Africa. WHO points out that investment in healthcare increases life expectancy and lowers infant mortality which means healthy, productive people who can help drive economic growth.
As I lay in my darkened room I came to an important conclusion. In the US, medicine is a commercial enterprise and in the UK it's a social enterprise. But in Africa medicine is hugely dependent on aid enterprise.
Now we don't build hospitals or train medical professionals but Send a Cow does help Africa's poorest feed themselves. By building healthy bodies we are helping them to secure the foundations of a thriving and self-sufficient Africa. Who can argue with that!Suggest a correction