Butembo, Oktober 6th 2001
A short report
In 1984, I began to raise money - starting with my own small reserves - in order to build a REFERENCE LAB FOR NORD-KIVU. The many patients I had cared for during my training inspired this ambitious plan. I was in Uganda in the 1970s. Later, as I was working in the Mama Yemo Hospital (Kinshasa), I realised how far people came in order to get medical help. Above all, I wanted to help those who could not afford to undertake such a long journey, and who needed treatment none the less. What would become of them? During this period, there were very few doctors in this densely populated region -less than 10 doctors for a population of 2 million people. Although I had a well-paid position in Kinshasa, I felt a need to devote my modest efforts to help ease this problem.
The problem was, how and where should I start? I worked in the Mama Yemo Hospital and taught Haematology and Blood Transfusion to students from Kinshasa. Through this, I managed to persuade a few of these young men from Lubero and Beni to return to their hometowns after their studies. But how can a pilot fly without an aeroplane? How can a surgeon operate without a scalpel? And how can a traveller conquer a distance of 100 km without taking the first step? And so, in 1984, I confidently took my first steps. I started off with my own pipettes, microscope slides, cover glasses and a few other instruments, everything I could muster. Much of this was borrowed. I also had a small supply of reagents. First of all, however, I used my head and rented out a small room in a house directly on the main road, so that curious people could see me working over my microscope, surrounded by a few other instruments. I had already been there a while, when I met Georg Roloff and Lisa Tepass. I did not know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a new hope and the alleviation of my heavy load.
I’m writing this report in order to thank Georg, Lisa and all our other friends, who made the Laboratory Bwako what it is today. Our thanks go to Todd Carlsen, who donated us a microscope and a colorimeter. Unfortunately, we have not been able to use the colorimeter so far, as it needs a different voltage to the kind we have available. Our thanks go to Georg, Lisa, Terra Tech and TTM for everything they have done for us so far, and what they will do in the future.
Butembo, where we live, is a rapidly developing town in the heart of Africa. The climate here is very cool by African standards. West of Butembo, are the fringes of the rain forest that stretches far beyond Kisangani and reaches right down to Kinshasa. East of Butembo, lie the magnificent savannahs, that stretch to the Indian Ocean and tempt many people to this East African region.
I love Butembo in many respects. The Banande people are extraordinarily self-sufficient. For a long time, they were as good as forgotten by the outside world. Needless to say however, they could not forget themselves. When they fall ill, they naturally try to get the best treatment. Sometimes, they fall into the wrong hands however, and get cheated and disappointed.
All of this was in our thoughts, as we started our work. This spirit still drives us. The problems have got worse as a result of the civil war, of course. Nevertheless, a few people have still shown interest in a career as medical lab technicians and we hope that they will carry out their diagnostics work in the spirit of science.
Even before the liberation in 1994, we had managed to convince the people to undergo tests in order to be properly diagnosed, before receiving treatment. This was the only way to find the correct treatments, and to prevent suppressing only the symptoms of their illnesses, instead of curing them. The war, however, has caused so much poverty among the people, that they do not have the means to receive further medical help. Nevertheless, we will not give up and we keep the spirit, that guides us, alive. Students continue to come to the laboratory as interns. We really appreciate these young people from the universities, medical faculties and other educational institutions. We are very much aware of the fact that, along with our modest knowledge, we are only able to help these young men and women, because you have provided us with the various kinds of equipment for the lab. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. The generator is a long-term capital which we treat with the utmost care.
The shipment that we received at the beginning of the year left us speechless, but our hearts are full of gratitude. The contents were perfectly selected in order to cover our most desperate needs. The electric microscope allows us to analyse the blood samples much more closely, and so on and so forth. We can walk with our heads held high. You have made us very proud and full of hope: we have a bright future ahead of us.
We hope that the civil war will end one day and we hope that politicians who promote humanitarian enterprises like ours, will then govern the country. A few politicians seem to be prepared to do this, if you can believe what they say.
I have included the wishes of the students. As you can see, some of them would like us to establish a school here. We are far from reaching this goal, of course. We will keep this idea as a future project, however. After all, we are already working with a school, which trains nurses to university-level.
But, as you know, we must establish the lab first of all, and this means that we need it to be well-equipped. I am still in contact with my school in Kampala. We hope that you will be able to help us again from there. There is so much to do. I don’t have enough space in this report to mention everything. I will try to describe how we could co-operate with the school in my next letter. On the other hand, they also lack necessary equipment.
Please allow me to add a list of the equipment that we most urgently need:
- 2 incubation baths
- 1 haemoglobin electrophoresis equipment
- 1 serum electrophoresis equipment
- 1 high precision analytical scales, with a tolerance of 0.001g or even 0.0001g in order to produce our own reagents locally.
- A few needles for bone-marrow aspiration
- 1 water distiller, so that we can prepare enough distilled water for the lab.
- 2 solar-powered refrigerators. With one of these, we can start to establish a blood-bank.
Why do we need solar-powered refrigerators? The electricity here is very irregular and although we currently run a kerosine-powered refrigerator, it is inconvenient and very expensive. These unsettled times makes it especially difficult, as we often have to stay inside for days on end. Not only this, there is a kerosine-shortage in the region. As a result, we have often lost desperately needed reagents. The other reason, is that we get a lot of sun every day.