A 21-hour trip and 8-hour time difference later, I, Mylene Fotso (Milly) CMC ’16 and Nora Studholme CMC ’14 arrived in Cameroon with a plan: five hospitals in five days. Having been told time and time again that when starting a nonprofit
organization, the most important trait is listening and observing, the spring break trip was a crucial step in developing the non-profit, SHARE, that we had been working on along with Avantika Aggarwal CMC ’16. SHARE’s aim is to ship recycled medical equipment to developing nations and train physicians on proper care and use of equipment for eventual autonomy. The question to be addressed was simple: what do these hospitals need? But we would find out that the conditions were far worse than we expected.
With 48% of Cameroonians living below the poverty line, and a further 80% unable to access reliable healthcare, the system is certainly broken. Ranked number 164/190 in the world, Cameroonian healthcare is crippled by a lack of resources, limiting the doctors who have much potential but are frustrated by the conditions in which they must work. The statistics are clear and shocking, but one cannot understand the situation behind these numbers without being on the ground and witnessing what the statistics mean in reality.
Centre Jamot, one of two mental health hospitals serving a population of 20 million, had enormous potential in its beautiful grounds and passionate doctors. However, because the Cameroonian system does not believe that mental illnesses are a legitimate concern, they are largely underfunded and cannot provide their patients the facilities and services they require.
“This building that we’re in was unoccupied for 4 years after it was built,” Dr. Kamga, the Johns Hopkins educated head psychiatrist explained, “we simply did not have the resources to furnish the facilities.”
Taking a tour of the Jamot, we discovered that this was a pattern. A large building built with the intention of housing a children’s room had already been left unoccupied for two years. The hospital, again, simply did not have the resources to make the space into a functioning room. Continuing the tour, we stopped at an isolation chamber intended for their violent patients. A tiny unfurnished cube, barely the size of a dorm room desk, walls of concrete, lock of iron.
“ Don’t the patients hurt themselves?” We asked.
“Yes, but we do not have the resources to provide them with a better room.”
We do not have the resources became the theme of our trip.
Another hospital, Hopital Mifi, the number one public hospital in the Western Region of Cameroon, has a passionate and dedicated staff, but yet again, they are limited in resources—the most shocking being their malfunctioning sterilization
machine, which only sometimes showed the temperature so that surgical knives and needles could be sterilized between uses. In some rooms, two or three women shared the same bed as they waited for care. How could a hospital that had so little still properly serve its patients?
Frustrated by the conditions—something as basic as beds being the most requested resource—our drive for the cause was refueled, and upon returning home, we have redoubled our efforts. While we, as a team of three, have all the passion in the world to drive us, we cannot do it alone, and we hope that the Claremont community will join us. We need people who are passionate and pragmatic–bringing to the table skills in logistics, social media, web design, finance, and accounting. It is unacceptable that these hospitals with so much potential are limited by such basic necessities, and we will make the difference.
Check out our video here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sustainable-healthcare-alliance-for-recycled-equipment/x/2885097
–Milly Fotso, ’16