By Barbara Dunlap-Berg*
When Jean Shailunga of the Democratic Republic of Congo contracted cholera, he was more fortunate than many of his neighbors in a rural community of the North Katanga Province. The change-maker for Shailunga was a 16-day cholera treatment he received at a Kizanga health center.
Health facilities in North Katanga are few and far between and often not equipped with medicines and supplies. Shailunga had suffered from cholera for three days and was buying three sachets of oral rehydration salts a day as his condition worsened.
On the fourth day, a kit including everything needed for an infusion arrived from United Methodist Global Health. As a nurse prepared the infusion, Shailunga’s family glorified God for this precious gift of medicine. However, because Shailunga’s veins had constricted, emergency treatment was delayed until a vein was located, and the infusion was initiated. Shailunga was unconscious for several days. After he regained consciousness, he resumed treatment.
Industrialized countries have not seen cholera cases for more than a century due to their quality of water and sewage treatment infrastructure. However, the causative agents continue to thrive in places like North Katanga where crowded housing conditions exist, and water and sanitation facilities are scarce or suboptimal.
For Global Health efforts to succeed, several factors must work together. Without the health center where Shailunga received treatment, committed doctors and nurses, lifesaving medicine, critical supplies and more operating interchangeably, his experience might have been quite different.
“Global Health,” said Dr. Olusimbo Ige, M.D., executive director of Global Health, “is one of the core program areas of Global Ministries and one of the four areas of mission focus for The United Methodist Church. Abundant Health is the signature goal for Global Health for this quadrennium.”
Global Health provides grants and technical support to improve the quality and scale of health care services offered through United Methodist hospitals and clinics in low-resource countries. “Our work,” Ige explained, “has been to support all United Methodist churches and conferences to engage in health ministries wherever they are.”
Shailunga’s story proves that access to medicines is critical.
Lives saved, hearts encouraged
In recent years, worldwide drug spending has outpaced overall health expenditures and economic growth. In developing countries, this has long been a concern. Without assistance, unaffordable prices mean that many patients will simply go without treatment.
To assist low-resource communities, the Global Health Unit of Global Ministries offers grants to support access to essential medicines. In South Sudan, a country besieged by civil conflict, a Global Health grant furnished a yearlong supply of medicine for 25,000 people.
“When the medicines were delivered,” nurse Susan Sunday said, “chiefs, local leaders and health clinic administrators cried tears of joy, since they have not seen a steady stream of medicines in over two years. Because of your grant, lives were saved, and hearts were encouraged by the fact that someone cares enough about their needs to send some help.” Drug management is equally important. The Global Health Unit’s quality-improvement system supports health facility site visits to enhance the provider’s capacity to follow treatment protocols and best practices for medicine storage.
A nurse in the East Congo Episcopal Area said, “I received a lot of information on the management of medicines and supplies during supportive supervision visits. From now on, I will know how to develop a supplies inventory sheet and track medicine consumption.”
The Global Health Unit supports more than 300 mission hospitals and clinics in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. One is Wembo Nyama General Reference Hospital. The first health care structure of the Central Congo Episcopal Region, it was initiated by Bishop Walter R. Lambuth of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and John Wesley Gilbert, a scholar and teacher from Paine College and a leader of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
More than a century ago, the hospital started with a dispensary to treat patients with leprosy, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. That small beginning evolved into the current reference hospital that supports the entire population of the Wembo Nyama health zone – more than 110,500 people.
That’s a huge number of people for a 200-bed hospital, with only five general practitioners and 86 nurses and support personnel.
In recent years, the small staff was being stretched beyond capacity, while the 60-year-old hospital building fell into disrepair. A caving roof and cracked walls threatened safety. Water dispensers were useless without running water. Old and nonfunctional equipment needed to be replaced. A renovation campaign was launched.
Before the recent renovations, this ceiling was caving in and proved to be an unsafe area to treat patients. PHOTO: DIKETE OTSHUDI
‘A challenge and great opportunity’
“Phase 1 of the renovation is completed,” Ige said, “at a cost of about $170,000. We are now finalizing the Phase 2 grant to support equipment, beds and drugs and complete solarization of the entire hospital.”
Paying staff is another hurdle to overcome, Ige noted. “Only 15.38 percent of the salary is paid from local revenue,” she said. “Many of the doctors have not been paid for months. We are negotiating with the government for more support and trying to recruit missionary doctors to address this.”
The Central Congo Episcopal Area health board, established 10 years ago, oversees 38 primary health care facilities and two general referral hospitals, including Wembo Nyama.
“It is a challenge and great opportunity to work with our Congolese brothers and sisters to address killer illnesses and increase the adoption of preventive interventions such as vaccines and breastfeeding,” said Dr. Graciela Salvador-Davila, M.D., Health Systems Strengthening manager for Global Ministries.
At Global Ministries, HSS objectives are structured around six pillars: human resources, medicines and technologies, governance, information, financing and service delivery. The pillars interact with each other.
Construction company engineer Paulin Mamwina surveys the renovation work at Wembo Nyama. PHOTO: OLUSIMBO IGE
“Each of the pillars,” said Salvador-Davila, “contributes to patient care. You could have excellent diagnostics, human resources and so forth, but if patients do not have access to medicines, [their] illness will not be treated.”
In 2016, HSS provided drugs to four charitable pharmacies in the United States; purchased three ambulance/operations vehicles, renovated five hospitals, supported 10 hospitals with diagnostic and service equipment, supported operations of 10 health boards, supported supervision visits in 10 health boards, supported audits and good management practices in five health boards, and established reporting systems for 12 health boards.
“Through the generous contributions of United Methodist churches,” Ige said, “over $5.4 million has gone to support community health programs in 35 countries. Access to lifesaving medication, preventive measures like bed nets and immunization, and community education on when to seek care means that malaria, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia and diarrhea are no longer death sentences. Increased access to prenatal services and skills attendants at delivery has resulted in thousands of women surviving childbirth and raising healthy children.”
God calls us to extend healing to all people. Creating opportunities for mental, physical and spiritual health for everyone is at the core of United Methodist beliefs. All three aspects are vital to health and wholeness.
In John 10:10b, NRSV, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Through Global Health, United Methodists bring Christ’s words to life.
– Retired from United Methodist Communications, Dunlap-Berg is a freelance writer and editor.
Join us in increasing access to essential medicine by giving to Abundant Health through The Advance #3021770.