Bonobo Conservation Initiative > Programs > Empowering People > Health Clinic

Health Clinic

Healthcare is among the most urgent needs for the people who share the bonobo habitat. Congo, like many countries in Africa, has struggled to overcome years of conflict, poverty and extremely limited infrastructure. The situation is dire; life expectancy is less than 50 years and a fifth of children die before they reach their fifth birthday. In most cases, remote rainforest communities are far from any modern medical facility. They have little to no access to any form of healthcare or even basic medicines. BCI, along with local partner Vie Sauvage, has developed the pilot “Bonobo Clinic” program to provide essential medical care to people who live near the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve. Each year 2600 Kokolopori residents receive healthcare services from the clinic including treatment for malaria, dysentery, malnutrition, and various injuries. With adequate supplies and support, we hope to extend the program to other communities in the Bonobo Peace Forest.

Kokolopori is comprised of a group of 25 villages (groupements) situated along a common road, with a population of about 8,000 people. Before the arrival of the Bonobo Clinic, the nearest clinic was approximately 110 km (70 mi) away in the territorial town center at Djolu. Even if a sick person could make the difficult journey to Djolu on foot or bicycle (the only means of transport available to villagers), they still might not receive adequate care due to lack of clinic resources. The locally operated hospital is also ill-equipped, and other NGOs providing healthcare withdrew from the area after the end of the war.

Bonobo Health Clinic; Photo Credit: Bonobo Conservation InitiativeWith the help of many individuals and organizations, the Bonobo Clinic has begun to change that situation. Kokolopori villagers donated significant time and labor to construct the buildings that house the clinic. Working with Congolese partner Jatukik Providence Foundation, BCI procured a major donation of medical supplies from the Falls Church, VA-based organization Crosslink. These supplies were shipped to DRC with support from Conservation International. BCI has also received medicines from MAP International to aid the establishment of the clinic. The clinic has a caring and dedicated staff of twelve, including a doctor, a lab technician, and several nurses. Knowing that safe childbirth is key to survival of mother and child, BCI has provided training for local women to become midwives.

The clinic has greatly improved health conditions in Kokolopori. With more support, even more lives could be saved.  Basic medications, including antibiotics and antimalarials, are in chronically short supply. The equipment is extremely limited, and the clinic could serve more people with larger and more up-to-date facilities. Additional personnel are required to serve the needs of the community. Please donate to the Bonobo Clinic today. For the people of Kokolopori, it is truly a matter of life and death.

For an inside look at a day in the clinic, please read this post by Martin Bendeler, Director of BCI Australia:

The rooster crowed outside my door at about 6.00am this morning and I tried to both ignore it and decide whether we should eat it before it could wake me up again tomorrow. Shortly after, there was a knock on my door. Dr Saidi had arrived to invite me to an appendectomy commencing shortly at the Bonobo Health Clinic (run by local conservation NGO Vie Sauvage and supported by the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, Indigo Foundation and the Kokolopori Falls Church Sister City Program). I had appendicitis when I was 13 and have never experienced anything so painful, before or since, so I had a personal investment in seeing this.

I threw on some clothes and made my way over in the morning cool. Already some mothers were out, their babies in jackets, making morning fires. Girls were headed towards the forest to gather, large wicker baskets slung across their foreheads. Other girls were returning to their huts with firewood or water. Men slept.

In the sparse room, where a few days earlier I had seen a baby born, sat Bebeesh Bikoma, 28, with her worried husband, Antoine Lokonga. She was stoically enduring what I knew to be immense pain. Bebeesh and Antoine are both primary school teachers, but Bebeesh was working in her house when the pain in her abdomen became so strong that it paralysed her right leg. She searched for antibiotics but the pain would not go away, so Antoine pulled her 37kms on a bicycle across cratered jungle roads from their village of Yalokengi to the Bonobo Health Clinic of Yalokele. This was her only option. The next nearest hospital was100kms away in Djolu, and even if she could have reached there, it would have cost much more than she or her family could afford.

The delivery chair reclined and became an operating table (the stirrups discarded to a corner), and the table from Dr Saidi’s consulting room was carried in and covered with a table cloth and the necessary drugs and surgical instruments. The honeyed orange morning light came in through two paneless windows in the mudbrick wall and the large space where the steel roof hand not been sealed (perhaps deliberately for ventilation?). Tubs of water rested on the dirt floor and had been brought by women from the source of a spring, 3 kilometres away, and then purified. A large donated cistern was waiting in the nearest river port of Bifore, 50 kilometres away, but there was not the funds or the fuel to transport it to Kokolopori. I stepped out while the medical staff scrubbed up and prepared Bebeesh for surgery.

When I returned, she was lying on the table, a blanket of sorts covering her abdomen except for the area of operation. Around her were Dr Saidi and three nurses- Eduard Limboto Losase, Nestor Baelonganoi and Albert Alukana (visiting from Yettee, where he oversees a dispensary)- who were administering a local anaesthetetic (lidocaine?).

Before making the first incision, Dr Saidi raised his hand and made an impassioned prayer in Lingala, and during the operation he and the nurses sang hymns in beautiful harmony. Dr Saidi later told me he was both seeking God’s blessing and administering psychotherapy for the patient. After awhile Bebeesh begin to suck in air through her teeth, in pain, and ketamine was prepared as a painkiller. One of the nurses used the strap of his stopwatch as a tourniquet and made the injection.

Given Bebeesh’s suffering, I felt guilty for my own congenital queasiness at the sight of blood, exacerbated by my lack of breakfast and my fasting from the day before (due to my stomach’s treachery), as I sat down next to her husband Antoine for a spell. He said he was nervous but grateful that his wife’s life was being saved.

Relatively quickly, Eduard presented me with the offending appendix. A nurse with a stethoscope checked Bebeesh regularly to ensure there were no complications. While Dr Saidi sutured the incision, he spoke with me about the challenges of rural health in impoverished communities. “As you can see, we are saving lives on dirt floors, delivery chairs and with glassless windows. You are lucky- today, this is our 150th operation in the past 18 months- appendixes, Caesarian sections, hernias, ovarian cysts, tumours, prostates. We are grateful to our partners abroad- Indigo, Falls Church, BCI- who have provided the gowns, gloves, anaesthetics and other equipment for this operation. But we are still challenged by the basic conditions. In terms of medicines, our greatest needs are for anti-malarials, anti-biotics and anti-worm tablets.”

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