Volunteers are Bringing “Hope for Health” to Rural Cameroon

By , Promoting Prosperity Worldwide

This article was written by Paula Kapotes and Alice Moskowitz, published by PYXERA Global here.

BD and Heart to Heart Team Up to Improve Access to Healthcare in Fotabong

Fotabong is a rural village in Cameroon’s remote southwest region, where there are limited healthcare providers to meet the needs of a population that is generally in poor health. The government-owned local hospital serves 21,000 people and typically receives up to 100 patients a day.

Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control, was born here. He was an only child, and his mother was emphatic that he have access to better healthcare than what was available in the village. When he reached the age of seven, she insisted that he leave Fotabong to live with his aunt. Through his years of development as a medical professional, his mother continued to remind him to give back to his native Fotabong by supporting improved healthcare. When she died, Dr. Nkengasong returned to his birthplace with his wife and dedicated himself to securing better healthcare for the local population to honor his mother’s memory.

“The people of Fotabong were desperate and hopeless, but then BD and Heart to Heart stepped in and brought hope and a promise of good health,” Dr. Nkengasong said. “That is why we are calling this project Hope for Health.” Hope for Health is a partnership between the community, the government, the social sector, and the private sector. For its design and implementation, Dr. Nkengasong works closely with the Cameroon Ministry of Health; Heart to Heart International (HHI), a nongovernmental organization; and BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), a leading global medical technology company with a commitment to advancing the world of health.

The hospital in Fotabong has two main buildings: the old facility where it currently functions and a newer building constructed by the government of Cameroon to serve as a maternity unit. The new unit, however, has never been functional as it remains incomplete, unequipped, and now in need of repairs.

The hospital at the outset of the BD Volunteer Service Trip.

Like its physical infrastructure, the hospital’s management had similarly fallen into disrepair. In 2011, the government of Cameroon assigned a medical officer to oversee the hospital. As the officer had several other facilities under his supervision, the resulting oversight was limited. Over time, the quality of medical care in Fotabong deteriorated, leading to a lack of confidence in the hospital and a loss of access to basic healthcare for local and regional residents.

“We’re working to improve healthcare access by training local members of the community to travel out to families and reach out to individual patients and encourage them to go to the hospital for their primary care. Historically, patients buy over-the-counter and roadside drugs, or go to traditional healers first. They would only resort to the hospital after their illness was well progressed and they were extremely ill,” explained Carla Orner, Director of Programs for Heart to Heart International. “Once we’re gone, that work will continue because those [trained] community members will carry it out and continue to change lives.”

Once we’re gone, that work will continue because those [trained] community members will carry it out and continue to change lives.

As part of its commitment, BD donated products and services and arranged to send volunteers to assist HHI. In February 2017, the BD Volunteer Service Trip (VST) Program sent 12 BD associates to Fotabong for a three-week engagement. The volunteers took an active role in training community healthcare workers, improving laboratory quality, overseeing the installation of a new roof for the hospital, upgrading plumbing and electrical infrastructure, and working with hospital administrators to plan for financial sustainability. The VST cohort also included a communications team to capture and report on progress.

“The hospital is in poor shape, without a roof, electricity, or water,” said Benjamin Bringuier, a BD R&D employee based in Tuas, Singapore. “Since we did not have supplies or tools, we had to travel the dusty roads to the remote city of Dschang in the neighboring province. It took us an entire day to gather the supplies,” he said. “Next, we divided our four-member construction team into electrical and plumbing groups so that we could work on two projects at the same time. We drilled big holes in the outer walls so that we could drain the standing water accumulated from the rain. For the next few days, we were fixing broken PVC pipes around sinks, but were not able to test our work, since the hospital does not have running water yet.”

Another group of BD volunteers addressed needed improvements in laboratory practices. “The local laboratory team showed great enthusiasm to learn and work collaboratively to improve laboratory standards,” said Harry Fanjo, a sales and applications specialist for BD Biosciences in Nairobi, Kenya. “There was a need for expanding the lab test menu. Their top priorities were hematology, chemistry, urine chemistry, and a water distiller.”

A volunteer leads a training with local community health workers.

The remaining volunteers trained community health workers and community leaders involved in healthcare management. “It is very rewarding to see how much the community health workers are learning, and how excited they are to begin teaching their communities,” said Nicole Wilson, a registered nurse and the Clinical Marketing Manager for Infusion Technologies at BD in San Diego. “One of the women said, ‘I am taking my binder home so I can show my family and community what I am learning.’”

At the conclusion of the BD Volunteer Service Trip, the group was proud to report its accomplishments:

  • Trained 22 community healthcare workers, three nurses, and two laboratorians
  • Developed a proposal for funding to increase testing capacity at the hospital laboratory in order to provide better patient care, resulting in increased revenue to the hospital
  • Trained physician and hospital administrator on good business practices
  • Installed electrical wiring and plumbing in the hospital
  • Documented the three-week project through photography and video
  • In advance of the 2017 volunteer program, BD and HHI hired a new physician for Fotabong hospital which has helped steadily increased patient volume

A BD Volunteer Service Trip team plans to return in spring 2018 to continue the effort to support healthcare improvements for Fotabong and the surrounding communities. It is clear that Dr. Nkengasong’s determination and influence was the catalyst for Hope for Health. For the countless medical facilities across the globe in need of support, partnerships such as this serve to inspire hope for new collaborative arrangements that can rally resources to address urgent needs.