“Just a few weeks after Father Alojzy Chrószcz’s telephone call, Polish ophthalmologists reached Africa to restore patients’ eyesight and hope: to be able to get out of the house, to be independent and to work and lead a better life,” says the President of Redemptoris Missio, Justyna Janiec-Palczewska. The Polish priest who serves in Cameroon had asked the Foundation for support in treating his parishioners who suffered from cataract. In a short time, the Foundation was able to find three Polish doctors and volunteers who were willing to engage in the project, organised the necessary equipment, and raised funds from the Office of the Polish Prime Minister. It took them two days to reach their destination.
Participants of the “Africa’s Eyes” project recall that from day one, patients who had heard about the Polish eye doctors began to arrive from nearby and distant places and would queue in front of clinics in Gari-Gombo, Ndelele and Doume. Each day followed the same pattern: consultations were held in the morning, and operations were performed in the afternoon. During the two weeks of their stay, the doctors diagnosed 302 people and qualified 73 of them for operation. Delivery bed served as the operating table and during the operations, doctors would sit on kitchen stools propped up by books. According to the foundation’s account, tropical heat and insects, which flew into the operating field blinded by the light, made operating extremely difficult. The doctors had to light the table with flashlights because generators could not provide enough electricity. Their account of the working conditions is universal – medical missions everywhere lack specialist equipment, professional staff and work in difficult climate conditions.
In spite of the very hard working conditions, Polish doctors and volunteers are not giving up – just like the non-governmental organisations and Polish foreign missions that are financed with Polish Aid. Example? Another project to save the eyesight of the poorest people was implemented in the southern region of Ayeyarwady by the Polish Embassy in Bangkok. Its inhabitants, mostly from rural areas have no access to regular specialist medical care, even though they work in the fields in intense sun and suffer malnutrition that affects their eyesight. Thanks to Polish Aid, many adult patients were able to see an eye doctor for the first time in their life. The doctors treated as many as 1,060 people, and operated on 362 of them. The rest of the patients received the necessary medication and eyeglasses.
It is also hard for many patients to get to other specialists, for example dentists. This is the case in Zambia and other countries where dental care is not free of charge and dental clinics are only found in large cities often hundreds of kilometres away. For this reason, Redemptoris Missio sent a Polish dentist to work in a missionary centre in Chingombe, a town inhabited by poor farmers. The missionary centre has received a mobile dental unit, which will remain there after the Polish mission ends. There are plans to set up mobile clinics that will reach patients living far away from health centres.
Not only a specialist
Difficult access to specialists is not the only problem that ails weak health care systems in the developing countries. Lack of equipment in the few existing clinics is often a problem, like in the cities of Dohuk and Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Civic Association “STEP-IN,” which partners with Polish Aid, runs stationary clinics and in Dohuk also one mobile clinic. The medical centres care for internally displaced persons, refugees and the local population.
The conflict in Iraq has led to a much worsened health condition of the local population who additionally suffers from very poor living conditions, the experienced traumas and permanent stress. The clinics were also equipped with apparatus for microbiological testing to make diagnosing more accurate and treatment methods more effective. The existing offer was extended to include physiotherapy and health prevention to avoid the outbreaks of epidemics in the region.
The town of Rushaki is situated in the north of Rwanda, approximately 60 km from the capital. The local medical centre cares for 21,000 patients, who inhabit 42 villages called umudugudu that are scattered across the mountains. The nuns who run the clinic visit their patients on motorbikes, by vans or on foot. The centre runs a vaccination programme (for 200 children per month) and offers consultations to people suffering from AIDS. It also has a laboratory, wound dressing rooms, a place for hospitalisation, and a delivery room, where 40 or so babies are born each month. The inhabitants of Rushaki and its surroundings suffer from malaria, typhoid fever and infestation, which mostly affect children. The majority of illnesses are the result of a lack of proper hygiene. This has prompted Redemptoris Missio to continue educating patients about proper health care and to train local staff in applying modern medical procedures, which remains the main objective of its project there, even though health education is already an important part of the clinic’s work.
Young patients are obviously most at risk. For this reason, many of the projects funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are aimed at improving the quality of health care provided to young patients and their guardians. One such initiative was to provide support to an Ethiopian health centre in Wassera, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region in the Kambata Tambaro Zone, which is also responsible for four smaller field branches in the nearby towns. The project, implemented by Innovaid Foundation, made it possible to purchase medical apparatus for a laboratory and a delivery room and an ambulance for transporting pregnant women about to give birth whose lives or health are at risk. The centre was also equipped with apparatus for morphology, hormonal analysis, biochemistry, and urine diagnosis, a mobile ultrasound apparatus, CTG equipment, delivery beds, oxygen concentrators and other useful equipment. The centre got a boost from the purchase and installation of auxiliary power units for laboratory equipment and an incubator which provide resistance voltage against sudden voltage surges from the electricity grid, which are commonplace in Ethiopia. Thanks to MFA’s support, the clinic in Wassera has the proper equipment to deliver complicated births and save the lives of new-born babies and their mums.
Often it’s not the equipment that is the biggest problem, but the lack of qualified staff. Like in the city of Meru in Kenya’s Eastern Province. A missionary centre in Kithatu which also runs a health clinic is an important place on the local map. The clinic treats patients for malaria, amoebic dysentery, typhoid fever, intestinal parasite infections, HIV/AIDS and injuries. The clinic also runs a vaccination campaign and treats pregnant women; a delivery room was opened in the clinic in 2015. It treats 6,000 patients a year – and they are under the care of one qualified nurse. Three volunteers: a trainee doctor and two midwives, who have just started working in the Kithatu and Mwichiune health centres, provide additional support for the Redemptoris Missio project. In addition to treating patients, they are also educating children attending missionary schools and training the local staff in using USG equipment.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights considers health to be a fundamental right. Believing that access to health care should be a reality across the globe, Poland supports developing countries in building health care systems. Poland implements projects in prevention, education, basic health care and specialist medicine in cooperation with experts and volunteers and each time selects measures to match the needs of the most important links in the systemic chain: patients in need of aid.