Professor Heinrich Stiegler during an assignment in Benin 2009. Photo: humedica
A country in the offside of medial attention
The problems of the small country Benin and its people seldom attract medial attention in times of so many global crises. Although the difficulties, this West African state has to face, are by no means minor: when compared internationally, Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world.
More than a third of the ten million inhabitants live below the poverty line and therefore have to fight for survival everyday. This goes along with low medical standards. Particularly in the rural regions people suffer from defective medical care and precarious hygiene conditions. If they fall seriously ill and do not belong to the small privileged class, they have a genuine problem.
In order to alleviate these difficulties, humedica engages for the people in Benin since more than six years now. humedica sends containers with aid supplies to provide several hospitals with badly needed medical materials. Without this support these hospitals would often not be able to treat ill and injured people. The next container full of medical equipment is already waiting in the wings: in early March it will leave the humedica store to be shipped to Benin.
The cooperation with the surgeon Prof. Dr. Heinrich Stiegler from Kaufbeuren provides another kind of support. The former chief physician of the Kaufbeuren clinic engages as a volunteer in Benin since several years. At least two times a year he visits the capital Cotonou to operate dialysis patients and to train local surgeons. humedica employees support him by providing certain medicaments and surgical instruments.
In the following short interview Professor Stiegler explains how this collaboration came about and which medical fields in Benin still rely on outside help.
„In Benin there are severe deficiencies“
Professor Stiegler, you volunteer as a physician in Benin since many years. Why did you choose Benin?
There already existed a personal contact to a doctor from Benin, who had addressed me because his mother had a medical problem. Basically it was about shunt operations for patients, who need a hemodialysis, i.e. a special procedure of renal dialysis (blood purification therapy). Before I started to work there, no shunts were implanted in Benin. In order to get them, patients had to go abroad or received catheters, which often caused sepsis (blood poisening) and finally lead to their death.
As this was a common problem in Benin, the doctor, I already mentioned above, contacted the Benin Health Department, which asked for my help.
Where do you see the major pent-up demand? What is lacking most in Benin?
There are severe shortfalls in both the stationary and the operative equipment in Benin. The situation in the outpatient clinic is particularly alarming. Acutely ill patients lie on the floor for hours and hours. It would have been a feast for Ebola, but luckily it did not surface there.
There are also more motorcycle incidents due to the increasing motorisation. So a patient with an open fracture may lie for hours on the floor of the outpatient clinic directly besides one suffering from an intestinal infection…
Hence there are spatial and also organisational deficits. On the other side they seem to have enough personnel at least.
What do you do specifically to help and where does your cooperation with humedica comes into play?
Two times a year I travel to Benin for one week and implant shunts there. Apart from that I train local surgeons, which shows success slowly, but surely. Together with them I hold joint consultations and teach doctors and nurses.
humedica supports my work by procuring and transferring the medical equipment we need on site. Currently they are setting up a container with equipment for 200 operations. For me this help is essential. As an individual you are quite helpless with regard to customs and organisation.
When do you plan to visit Benin again?
I intend to travel to Benin again in April or May. May last stay there was in December 2015.
Thank you very much for these insights and all the best for your continued assistance in Benin!
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