Medical care for prisoners - "Every mission is different and every single one is a very special experience of its own"

by Petra-Marina Keffel/SRA,  2011/02/03

For two weeks the German urologist Dr Petra-Marina Keffel took part in a humedica mission. This was not the first time she and a team consisting of six doctors offered medical help to prisoners. This time her mission took her to different penal institutions of the Central African state of Cameroon.

Over-crowded and without medical care. Living conditions at prisons in developing countries are alarming. Photo: humedica

The living conditions prevailing at the penal institutions of numerous developing countries are alarming. Completely over-crowded, the prisons do not only lack the necessary hygiene to ward off diseases that threaten the prisoners who have to live a dire existence isolated and forgotten by the world beyond their prison bars. In general, the prisons also lack doctors who are responsible for offering medical care to imprisoned patients.

Therefore, in cooperation with the partner organisation Prison Fellowship International (PFI), humedica sends teams consisting of honorary medical assistants to project countries all over the world, such as Cameroon, in order to care for and treat prisoners, as well as their families and prison staff.

A few weeks ago, head of the medical team, Dr Petra-Marina Keffel, returned from Africa and she told us about the humedica mission at the prisons of Cameroon.

"Yaoundé, Mfou, Bafia, Douala, Kumba and Buea. For two weeks the local penal institutions of these cities of Cameroon were our daily destinations. Two weeks, in which the team consisting of dentist Dr Konrad Weiss (Greven), the nurses Theresa Hahlbrock (Würzburg) and Karin Lichtenberger (Waldbronn), and the two doctors Dr Krystian Jaschik (Hinterschmieding) and Dr Rüdiger Lange (Karlsruhe) provided prisoners with medical care which usually is inaccessible to them.

Often, the missions of honorary relief assistants are the only way for those prisoners to receive medications. In the photo: Dr Petra-Marina Keffel (left), Theresa Hahlbrock. Photo: humedica

For more than 1,400 prisoners - among them also 15 juveniles aged between 14 and 18 - our medical mission was a rare possibility to receive treatment by professional doctors and nurses.

Many of them suffer from diverse untreated skin diseases, respiratory diseases, gastro-intestinal problems, worm infections and parasites, but also from malaria, cholera, tuberculosis and various other disease patterns and problems.

A true asset for the prisoners was our dentist Konrad. Dental care is a serious problem all over Cameroon. The country's poorest inhabitants permanently suffer from the insufficient possibilities of having dental problems treated. For those imprisoned at penal institutions, there is no way of seeing a dentist.

All the more valuable was the service performed by Konrad Weiss during our mission for the prisoners. He extracted more than 200 teeth and released many of his patients from the torturous pains they had often had to endure for a long time due to dental problems. Not only his professional, but also his physical performance was amazing and I highly respect him for it.

Certainly, also our public appearances together with our partners of Prison Fellowship Cameroon were an important contribution to the programme for medical care of prisoners.

He released hundreds of people from torturous toothache. Dr Konrad Weiss treating a prisoner. Photo: humedica

Whether at the Ministry of Justice or of Health, at a celebration in honour of our work at the Yaoundé Central Prison, at a Christian nursing college or at the football academy of a boarding school for orphans: wherever we went, we were welcomed and celebrated most warmly.

Our safety and motivated cooperation by our colleagues was provided for. Our team also included four interpreters for us and three priests of Prison Fellowship Cameroon who were responsible for counselling the prisoners in spiritual issues.

Thanks to the support of our partners of Prison Fellowship Cameroon, and in particular to coordinator Samuel, even difficult situations could be handled efficiently. On a whole, the prisoners seemed to be more nervous and less disciplined than I had experienced so far.

However, clarifying talks and the excellent work of our local colleagues made sure that we were at no time subjected to any danger posed by the prisoners.

I would like to thank all the team members for their commitment. On a whole, this mission was marked by a special team with strong personalities, which had a permanent and positive influence on our work.

Every mission is different and every single one is a very special, valuable experience of its own. It is hardly appropriate to express good wishes; we can only thank God that we have met humedica's requirements with cheerful hearts and intelligent minds."

The humedica team in Cameroon - on a mission for social outcasts (from left to right): Dr Petra-Marina Keffel, Dr Krystian Jaschik, Karin Lichtenberger, Theresa Hahlbrock, Dr Konrad Weiss and Dr Rüdiger Lange. Photo: humedica

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