Project Stories:

Prison relief intervention in Benin

Report by humedica practitioner Tobias Schadeck

by Tobias Schadeck,  2018/06/28

„Lassa fever outbreak in Berlin“ my wife read aloud from our Sunday journal at breakfast. „That´s far away from the Bavarian Forest, and, on top, I am not planning to got to Berlin in the next weeks“ I answered. „Not in Berlin. In Benin!“ she corrected me.

Benin, that was a tad more dicey as I was planning to leave for Benin in a few days taking part in a humedica prison intervention. So I took my computer out to research information online: Is the whole country already in quarantine? What does the Foreign Office say? Will the intervention be cancelled? After consulting with the project manager at humedica I got the all-clear: there were only isolated cases in the North of the country, in a region, where Lassa fever is endemic in any case.

So the journey could start as planned: coming from various airports all over Germany the eight-person team arrived in Istanbul and met there for the first time. In the late evening we finally got to Cotonou, the biggest city of Benin. Ignacio, the contact person of our local partner organization Oredola e.V., welcomed us happily. If everything has gone smoothly till date thanks to Ignacio´s outstanding organization, it now proved difficult and tedious to get our medicaments through customs. In short, it took us two workdays till we got hold of our medication and could start our original mission.

Hautarzt Tobias Schadeck (links) mit Kollegin in Benin

Travelled to Benin for humedica: dermatologist Tobias Schadeck. Photo: humedica

Reasonable situation in the model prison Akpro-Missérété

Our first visit brought us to the Prison civile Akpro-Missérété in Porto Novo, the real capital of Benin. Via sand tracks we travelled to the prison, where about 1.500 inmates were awaiting us. The prison seemed to be well organized housing the prisoners in various living quarters. They all had their own bed with a mattress and a mosquito net. The overall situation was acceptable with regard to the circumstances, there seemed to be enough meals and also the sanitary facilities were reasonable – later on we heard that Akpro-Missérété is kind of a prestige object of the interior ministry. This prison used to be presented to visitors, so this site was comparatively well equipped and organized.

The approximately 500 prisoners we examined during these four days were provided with medicaments, we put their names down for further treatments such as visits at the dentist, outstanding operations or, in some cases, for further examinations in order to clarify HIV or tuberculosis infections. Mainly we had to deal with skin illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases as well as infections and gastrointestinal affections. Very helpful were four students of German language and literature, who accompanied us for the whole intervention and translated German into French or one of the local dialects.

Billy, Michael, Prince and Rashid – you were brilliant, thank you so much for your help!

Das Einsatzteam und Vertreter der Partnerorganisation Oredola e.V.

Our intervention team was supported excellently by the local partner organization Oredola e.V. Photo: humedica

After four days we departed for the next prison. The warm good-by by the inmates and the prison employees gave us the impression to have achieved something substantial in Akpro-Missérété.

Precarious living conditions in Abomey-Calavi

In the Prison civile Abomey-Calavi the situation was completely different: the construction was similar to the one in Akpro-Missérété, but that was already the very end of similarities between the two prisons.

The hospital ward was empty except for some pieces of few run-down furnishing. If ever there had been medical equipment, it had gone – far away, out of the prison. Even the drain of the basin in the toilet had gone lost. There were still two ladies, who introduced themselves as prison nurses. As they spoke various country languages and were familiar with the local conditions, they were in charge of the inmate registration. We never met the prison management in person during our four-day stay.

But we met with Mr. Eric, the deputy president of the parliament in Porto Novo. Before our arrival, he had already been to the jails with Ignacio and had helped to organize our intervention. Thanks to his bureaucratical and political influence a lot proceeded more smoothly. We used to meet him for breakfast every day to discuss our work.

Das humedica-Einsatzteam und Herr Eric, stellvertretender Präsident des Parlaments in Porto Novo

Met daily for breakfast to discuss their work during their intervention in the Prison civile Abomey-Calavi: the humedica intervention team and Mr. Eric, deputy president of the parliament in Porto Novo. Photo: humedica

Merci et au-revoir!

Our work in Abomey-Calavi was intensive and challenging. The diseases were mainly the same as in Akpro-Missérété, worsened by the consequences of malnourishment and psychic stress. Here also women and children were imprisoned, most of them severely ill, so that the approximately 850 patients reduced our medication stock in no time. In particular quite common drugs like antibiotics, vitamins and painkillers were needed. The list for further treatment became longer by the day: testicle and hernia ruptures, anal prolapses, desolate teeth conditions – just to name a few examples.

There were also many Malaria cases. A round tour on the penultimate day showed us why: dormitories with 200 people who had to share 40 beds, two showers and two toilets. There were no mosquito nets and no ceiling fans, so that inmates were infected easily by mosquitos and other exciters. Our Malaria tests, as long as they were still available, often had positive results and were used up quickly due to the many suspected cases.

Marion Seewald, Karin Weigold und Stefanie Heckenberger (von links nach rechts) beim humedica-Einsatz in Benin

Provided the patients as long as possible with medics – and good spirits: Marion Seewald, Karin Weigold and Stefanie Heckenberger (from the left to the right) during the humedica intervention in Benin. Photo: humedica

Our intervention came to its end. Slightly downcast we left Abomey-Calavi. Not as we had not worked efficiently, but as the situation on site was so desolate. While leaving the jail premises we read the inscription above the main portal: „Merci et au-revoir!“. A bad joke for the inmates, for us a ray of hope that this will not have been our last intervention here.

With God´s blessing

humedica´s work can only improve so much, but it is important and exemplary. We therefore hope that we will be able to organize many more such relief interventions in the future - in Benin, but also in other countries, where the living conditions and problems are similar. God may bless and guide us in this enterprise like he did lead and protect our team during these two weeks, after which we returned safely.

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