humedica-medical team in Ethiopia: Rush of patients seemed endless

by Dietmar Köthnig, 2009/07/31

The paediatricians Dr. Zuzana Korinekova and Dr. Christina Reiserer, the nurse Inna Warkentin, the anaesthetist Dr. Gilda Bickert and coordinator Dietmar Köthnig had to face a long journey in June. Yet the destination of the committed humedica-team was not a chic hotel but one of the poorest countries on the globe: Ethiopia. Dietmar Köthnig recalls their experiences.

This year, we had planned to work in the surroundings of Hossanna, about 300 kilometres south of the capital Addis Abeba. A hilly landscape that, at first sight, looks nice and green, with many houses scattered in it; exactly as I had always imagined Africa. However, this positive impression soon turned out to be superficial. The area is overpopulated and, despite of green woods and fields, people suffer from poverty and hunger.

This committed team defied all difficult conditions in Ethiopia. Foto: humedica Photo: humedica

My friend Takele was born in this region and helping his compatriots was very important to him. Therefore, we already travelled to the area before our actual work stay in order to prepare our work as well as possible and to find out where medical aid was needed most.

Our actual work began without problems: the team arrived in Addis Abeba as planned and went through customs without problems. The evening was spent with intense conversations at our accommodation and packing medicine. The next morning we headed south for Angacha, where we could stay in a small hotel. On our first day of treatment, we went to Bucha, a village about 8 km away from Angacha.

Here, we could work in a small health centre. The hospital nearby could not yet be used since there were some problems with construction works. We began with the treatment. Some local health workers assisted us with translating and explained to patients how to take their medication correctly. Furthermore, they helped us with registration and ensured a smooth treatment process.

In the early afternoon, largely unnoticed by us, two men arrived in a car and spoke to the heads of the health centre. When we had finished our treatment and wanted to plan the next day together with the local staff, they told us that we were no longer allowed to continue our work because of a ban imposed by the superior health administration.

Back in Angacha we met with the district leader with whom we had discussed our work beforehand. He told us that he had forwarded all information and had gained the necessary permissions from superior authorities. Yet unforeseen conflicts of responsibility within the health authority had led them to forbid our work; not only in Bucha, but also in the other areas we had planned to visit. Now, we had to reorganize our work.

Open-air treatment: typical of humedica’s work not only in Africa. Photo: humedica

First, we went to Shashemene. There, the following day, we examined the children at the school affiliated to Takele’s church community. Meanwhile, he had contacted a Pastor who was a friend of his in Arsi Negele, a village about 30 kilometres north of Shashemene. So, during the following days, we gave medical treatment to the children at the school belonging to the church community in Arsi Negele and to some of the poorest people in the village. During a training seminar, 20 working members of the church received information about hygiene, Aids and further health-related topics.

In addition, they received the book “Where there is no doctor” in their language, together with the encouragement to help other people with their knowledge.

For the last part of our working trip, I had contacted Pastor Samuel in Assawa. While we had been treating people in Arsi Negele, he had made preparations for further treatment in two other villages in Sidamo. We stayed in the same accomodation in Shashamene and made two trips to Tschawa, a village in the mountains of Awassa. Here as well, we could organize a training seminar for 25 women, who are supposed to serve as multipliers in their neighbourhood.

The last day of treatment, which we spent in Burkito, showed us once again that there is a desperate need of medical care. The rush of patients seemed endless. Many of them waited for hours with great patience, until it was their turn. Nevertheless, some stayed behind disappointed since time was not enough to treat all people who were in need of treatment.

Our working trip proved once again the importance of having efficient contacts in Ethiopia, especially with church communities. Apart from that, it is helpful when the treatment can be carried out at a health centre or nearby and when skilled health staff serves as translators. They have the best knowledge of local disease patterns and their treatment and patients can be referred to the health centre for further treatment.

The training seminars we offered proved a useful addition to our aid measures and the medical literature I mentioned above was gratefully received by students. We cannot replace clinics and hospitals yet again we have been able to provide medical treatment to people who desperately needed it. A good contribution to charity in action.

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