November 15, 2013
Last week I travelled to the village of Ngwah with one of the project staff named Philemon. Accessible only by bike and only in good weather, Ngwah must contend with the privations that come with remoteness. This isolated community is the site of one of the small satellite clinics associated with St. Martin de Porres Hospital. Staffed by a nurse, a handyman, and a lab technician, this tiny clinic serves nearly four thousand people. In the closet-sized delivery room, on the wall opposite the door, there is a stool and a black soot stain from a kerosene lamp; the only reliable source of light at night. In the lab, a string and a cowboy-like lasso technique takes the place of a centrifuge and a system of mirrors shines light in just the right way for the microscope to function properly without electricity. Here necessity is the mother of improvisation.
MFH is helping to support the clinic by assisting in the construction of a building that will expand its capacity and serve as a meeting place for pre and postnatal screenings, as well as community health seminars; a critical strategy in reducing the burden of avoidable illnesses. In case of emergencies, there is a government hospital in the town of Fundong which is a half hour’s motorbike ride away, but the road itself is impassable for much of the rainy season, and very difficult to navigate in the dry season, especially if the patient happens to be in a fragile state. The hospital in Fundong is not a popular place among the people in the area, which means that many try to go the extra 20 kilometers to Njinikom’s hospital if possible. Philemon informed me that just one week prior, a pregnant woman experiencing obstructed labor had died while attempting to make it to Njinikom on the back of a bike, in the rain, at night. My own discomfort on the ride there was suddenly put into perspective. It’s hard to comment on such an ordeal, but certainly it “humanizes” the all too often impersonal nature of statistics; a mother dies in 1 out of every 145 live births in Cameroon. When you consider that it is common for women here to give birth to 6 or 7 children, this number becomes even more sobering.
Beyond the emergency scenarios, the difficulty in accessing the nearest hospital means that, for the people of Ngwah, vaccinations, out patient care, and pre and postnatal screenings would be nearly impossible if it weren’t for the clinic. This highlights the importance of increasing the capabilities of the rural health centers as much as possible. Of equal importance is proactively taking measures to identify and avoid problems as early as possible. This is precisely MFH’s mission here. The number of emergency trips to Fundong or Njinikom hospital is being reduced because MFH is strengthening the community health worker presence and helping to provide safe, reliable drinking water.
Philemon and I travelled to Ngwah that day to identify possible sites for the development of community water taps. After we spoke with the health center nurse, Philemon called a friend to direct us to an area of Ngwah that accounted for the majority of water borne illnesses. Continuing on dirt bikes for another 20 minutes we came upon a series of springs that functioned as the water source for a community of herders. Some of the springs had dried up earlier in the year, and all were prone to contamination during the wet season when the rains wash animal manure downhill and into the unprotected streams. While I took some photos, Philemon made some notes and spoke with our guide. My understanding is that construction of two taps and storage tanks will begin next year. This project will ensure clean water year round, but the construction will take a year or more due to the fact that all materials must be brought in by bike. Patience is a virtue in Cameroon.
About the author: Drew Fink is a graduate of University of Wisconsin where he was a pre-med student. He travelled to Cameroon to do a 3 month internship at the St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Njinikom.
The hospital is managed by MFH in-country partner Sr. Xaveria Ntenmusi and the Tertisary Sisters of St. Francis – Cameroon. These are entries from Drew’s journal about his experiences in Cameroon.