Democratic Republic of Congo
The second largest country of Africa, full of paradoxes. On one hand, it is rich in natural resources (including cobalt, copper, coltan, crude oil, diamonds, gold); on the other hand, its inhabitants are among the poorest in the world. For decades, the DRC has been suffering from prolonged conflicts that have led to one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world.
- 77% of the population live in extreme poverty for less than $1.90 a day
- 16% of the country’s population, i.e. over 13 million people, require immediate humanitarian assistance
- 13,6 million people are deprived of access to safe water sources and proper sanitary and hygienic facilities
- numerous outbreaks of deadly diseases, including measles, malaria, cholera and Ebola
- about 10% of all malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa occurred here
Patients with mental health issues are a big challenge for our doctors. Although each of our doctors sat through lectures in psychiatry at university, they aren’t psychiatrists. They do, however, take mental health extremely seriously and strive to expand their competencies, while at the same time being aware that the medical care available is quite primitive and in makeshift conditions. What more can be said, they are still the most competent professionals within a several mile radius. Can you imagine that for every million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo there is only one psychiatrist! By comparison, there are more than 90 psychiatrists to every million residents in Poland. Lack of specialists in this field is a topic that is brought up often in our country, and even with our supply of doctors we are still trailing behind most of Europe. And so, patients in the DR Congo are facing a huge problem. As you may know, people in North Kivu with considerable mental health issues are happy to trek tens of miles on foot just to come see us.
We have managed to help a dozen or so patients so far. We see a portion of our patients in the psychiatry center in Goma. First and foremost, we try to work with the family, establish the underlying cause of the illness, give consultations and administer medication. Only a few years ago, everyone who showed signs of mental illness was taken to “nyumba ya maombi,” or the prayer house. That is where rattles would shake, the head of the afflicted was fanned with armfuls of herbs, and the entire ceremony was enhanced with singing and dancing. As you can imagine, the patient’s condition did not improve, but more often than not, worsened.
For the past few years, local residents have been seeing the effects of treatment in our hospital and, as a result, are slowly beginning to trust us. In other words, we helped take work away from the shamans and give the sick a chance to get better.
Patrick arrived a few weeks ago. He was brought by villagers. He protested but his determined neighbors decided they needed to get help for this boy, who would attack anyone who would try to get near. We managed to calm him down but it soon became clear that we couldn’t do this on our own and that we need to get him specialist help. We took him to Goma, where he spent a month. His treatment was paid for by, of course, you. After returning from Goma, he spent two more weeks with us. He recently went back home. He still visits us regularly to get medicine, always in the company of his father, who is eternally grateful to us for saving his son. (By the way, that mountain of a man in the picture on the title page is Patrick)
Consulate is another patient who is feeling very well. She weaves mats and works in the fields. Her biggest worry had been her alcoholic husband. Last year, we even built Consulate and her family a small, wooden house to free her from the arguments at home. However, her husband upset her again so badly that we had to take her in and help her through another breakdown. Today she is doing well.
Consulate and Patrick want to express their thanks. They know how treacherous their illness can be and how they wouldn’t have stood a chance without the hospital, doctors, sisters and you!