Missionary fights COVID 19
What we would call being trapped in a third world country amid a crisis Dr Stephen Foster, a medical missionary with SIM (Serving In Mission) calls a day’s work. Now in Lubango, the second most populous city in Angola, southwest Africa, the wave of COVID-19 patients is cresting but they have not seen levels like we have in Canada because of travel restrictions and government control. Still, cases are growing in the area Dr. Foster and his family live in and they are treating them, one masked patient at a time.
Dr. Foster is the Clinical and General Director to the Medical Center (CEML), a hospital he helped to create, where he is treating the masses as part of a team. As of August 20, he’ll be down to three ex-pat medical staff to treat patients. Usually his 130 staff, including 2 full-time doctors and 5 part-timers, treat 60 patients daily.
“Luanda has 90 per cent of the COVID 19 cases of the 2,000 known,” he writes in an email from his Angolan home. He continues that the government won’t issue travel visas so he’s staying put. “Travelling these days only makes sense for very strategic reasons,” he later adds. “Frankly I enjoy the challenge.”
“I was told to stay home for the first two month of the lockdown in April and May,” he says. “Since June, I started half time and since July 1 full-time…. Our volume (of patients) has risen 70 per cent.”
The lock-down, Dr Foster says, causes a rise in tuberculosis cases to some extent too because more people are living in close quarters. One of the problems with him not being at work along with others is that some patients’ cancer surgeries were delayed by as long as 7 months because of a ripple effect caused by having COVID-19 patients with immediate medical needs.
The needs in the region are great and Dr Foster talks of plans to help more people and meet them as quickly as donors in Canada and around the world enable him to.
“We are planning to train Angolan doctors to provide help so that in the future rural folk will have access to much improved care,” he says. “We want to demonstrate this in four pilot municipal hospitals some of have no water, electricity, oxygen, or theaters.”
It will take 20 million American dollars to rehabilitate those hospitals, a present goal that would mean the Fosters and others could rehabilitate the hospitals, train health care workers at the existing hospital in Lubango, and prepare 100 new doctors and surgical technicians to meet Angolans’ needs. It a goal they want to work toward over the next decade. Dr Foster and those he trains also bring a personal spirit of care to their work and they share the faith that drives and sustains them.
“Sometimes simple questions about patients, their ages, their number of children and spouses bring insight and exclamations,” he admits.
I’ve seen the foundations for this hospital when I visited the medical missionary and his family in Lubango in 2004. Back then it was just being built. Yet, in other clinics and the rural countryside, I watched Foster treat men, women, and children. I saw him welcome a baby into the world. It was eye-opening to see the need for better operating rooms and more medical supplies and the numbers lined up waiting to see one of the few doctors making themselves available there.
Five hundred kilometers from the hospital in Lubango is a rural Medical Clinic headed by Dr. Robert Foster. It lay in ruins for 30 years amid the country’s 27-year civil war that ended in 2002. Now it is treating people in this remote area too. They are seeking to build an airstrip to service it.
In the city and rural countryside of developing countries like Angola, coronavirus has the potential to spread like wild fire. It’s starting to. Throughout the African continent, 1.12 million cases of coronavirus have been reported to date. Recoveries are at 813,815 cases reported in African Union States.
The Fosters and others are working to make sure there’s an immediate response so the sick will receive care and the spread can be halted. I personally cannot help but admire such sacrifices and practical demonstrations of goodwill these Canadians demonstrate. What an example of courage!
Angolans are working in their homeland around the clock, too. A massive public dissemination and awareness campaign is underway with the help of Angolans working with World Vision Angola in partnership with the Angolan government. Roughly 1,900 people have been reached as part of it so they can take precautions against coronavirus.
News is reaching rural areas in attempts prevent new infections. While I filled a staff members maternity leave at World Vision almost two decades ago, I saw during Hurricane Mitch and the war in Kosovo how the relief and development agency mobilizes to ship food and supplies to help those effected. They helped displaced families by bringing everything from tarps and sheeting for ground cover to infant formula mixtures.
In famine zones, they therapeutic feeding UNIMIX and other advanced formulas to bring children back from the brink of starvation. Such advances have helped in the western world to assist and treat premature babies. I for one think the work of 30 years of Christian relief and community development, and centuries longer of traditional missionary efforts, is something worth fighting to build upon.
COVID-19 threatens to set this work back by decades. I hope all Canadians will be generous where they see ways of helping their global neighbours.
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