One of the premature babies at United Methodist Samuteb Memorial Hospital in Kapanga, DR Congo, where unreliable electricity supply means that for basic care, staff employ blankets, hot-water bottles, and cardboard boxes.
By David Tereshchuk*
June 20, 2013—Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to zero in on just one embattled African country, has seen few areas of its life suffer as severely through decades of warfare than its hospitals.
In so much of the world, hospitals can simply be taken for granted—but that is not so in DRC.
Africa’s “world war”—so named because so many different nations got involved, attracted by the spoils available in DRC—desperately worsened an already serious shortfall in the supply of effective health care to the Congolese population. And that was especially true, predictably enough, in the worst conflict-affected regions.
DRC is one of several developing countries supported by a million-dollar program initiated by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to help strengthen hospital systems, including more than 300 hospitals, most in Africa. The other countries, many of them currently or recently conflict-torn, include Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Mozambique.
The overall purpose focuses on fostering good governance and management, cultivating strong administrative and medical leadership in health care, and investing in human resource development at all levels of the system, as well as building up facilities’ infrastructures and providing for necessary equipment, medications, and other supplies.
Ted Warnock is a General Board of Global Ministries missionary for special projects who is working with UMCOR’s Health and Development division. Among his tasks is that of providing capacity and governance training for freshly created United Methodist health boards in the countries concerned.
Recently, he had the chance to travel across the DRC to the remote southern community of Kapanga, more than 1300 miles from the capital Kinshasa. There, the United Methodist Samuteb Memorial Hospital, which was founded in 1914, serves a population of more than 140,000 residents.
Childbirth inevitably forms a substantial part of the hospital’s service, and it delivers on average 200 children each month. A great many of these births are of premature babies. Says Warnock: “The hospital has shown great ingenuity in its successful care of these children.”
Faced with a highly unreliable electricity supply, the hospital has come up with a creative solution. Staff place each newborn in a cardboard box, wrap the child in a soft blanket, and place two hot water bottles, one on either side of the infant, inside each box. They partially close the top, and protect it with a mosquito net.
Such combination of dedication and inventiveness is what can strengthen hospital systems in disadvantaged areas. UMCOR Health and Development also continues to work with conference health boards to develop strategic management plans, and supports all initiatives that encourage sustainability and high-quality health care.
At ground operating level, Samuteb Memorial Hospital offers a prime example of the strategic plans of the countries involved in the program. Each country’s health board has a mission statement that includes a clear vision—one that missionary Warnock summarizes as providing "holistic, affordable, and accessible delivery of health-care services."
Your gift to Health Systems Strengthening, UMCOR Advance #982168, will help bolster hospital systems in countries like DR Congo
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to umcor.org