Red Cross doctor: "Our primary goal is to save lives."

Publié: 20 juin 2016 9:30 CET

By Niki Clark, American Red Cross

Dr George Lukindo, 33, is always smiling. It seems a bit out of place here, in the middle of a refugee camp, but as the lead doctor of the Tanzania Red Cross Society Mtendeli Hospital, he says he has good reason. Since the hospital opened in January 2016, even with a massive influx of patients, there has not been a single loss of life. It is something Dr George is extremely proud of considering the personal mantra he often repeats to anyone within earshot, “Our primary goal is to save lives.”

The hospital is supporting more than 4,000 Burundian refugees from the adjoining Mtendeli camp, as well as the surrounding villages. That number has increased as refugees were transferred from the overcrowded Nyarugusu camp some three hours south, to reduce pressure on limited resources.

First opened in 1996, Mtendeli was closed in 2010 when many Burundians returned home following a brief stint of political stability. With a resurgence of violence in April 2015, thousands fled again, returning to Tanzania. Many refugees have been here two or even three times before. During its closure, Mtendeli fell to ruin; even today, renovated wards stand next to crumbling structures. The sound of construction is all around. Dr George hopes to have an operating theatre soon; currently, emergency cases are evacuated to Kibondo District Hospital, 36 kilometres away.

Renovated sections of the hospital are sparse but clean. There is a lab with a chargeable microscope, and a pharmacy, although there is currently no pharmacist. Medical assistants help out where they can. Four doctors, including Dr George, see upwards of 120 patients a day. There is a counseling treatment centre for HIV patients and a room for blood transfusions. International Rescue Committee operates a ward for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) works on campus to help refugees trace missing family members. All services are free, not only for refugees, but also for the Tanzanian host population which takes advantage of having such facilities nearby.

Long waiting lists

Hakizimana Felista, 44, has been a refugee in Tanzania before. Today, she is at the hospital with her six-year-old son Ngabhile Levisi. She just arrived to Mtendeli from Nyarugusu. She has been in the camps since July 2015, living in a tent in Nyarugusu designed to accommodate up to 200 people. A single mother, she made the journey from Burundi with her four children, alone. Her first husband died and her second husband left her. She has no idea where he is. Ngabhile has had a chronic eye infection for the better part of five years. According to doctors, it is slowly making him blind. He is also coughing and has a fever.

She heard about the hospital from the other refugees and decided to come to see if someone could help them. She tried getting medical assistance in Nyarugusu but the appropriate medicine was out of stock. Lack of supplies is a constant challenge here. She says life in Mtendeli is a bit more promising from where she was. She is able to receive medicine for Ngabhile’s cough and fever, and for this, she is grateful. But she will need to go to Kibondo District Hospital for the eye infection. Mtendeli has no ophthalmologist.

Sitting next to Hakizimana is Naimana Jenesia, 25, her one-year-old daughter Aishack Aledelfe strapped to her chest, although she is more the size of a baby half her age. Jenesia spent ten years in Tanzania as a refugee, returning for the second time in September 2015. During her medical screening with the Red Cross doctor in Mtendeli, she was told about the hospital. She came in immediately as Aishack has been coughing and throwing up, and received medication. Today she is back for a follow up.

The wait is long. She will be here several hours at least, waiting to see someone. But Jenesia has no complaints. Aishack is feeling much better already. And for Jenesia, that is worth all the time in the world.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an Emergency Appeal of 5,213,378 Swiss francs to support the Tanzania Red Cross Society as it responds to this unfolding crisis. The Appeal aims to assist 250,000 refugees in the Nyarugusu and Mtendeli camps through the provision of basic health care, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, shelter, disaster preparedness and risk reduction and capacity building. The Appeal is currently 52 per cent funded.