A hospital set up in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to care for United Nations peacekeepers is also bringing hope to hundreds of local people who might otherwise lack necessary treatment for their illnesses and injuries as well as screening that can ward off preventable sickness.
“Our specialists are capable of carrying out life- and limb-saving surgeries,” says Lieutenant- Colonel D. Bhattacharya, Commanding Officer of the UN mission’s Indian hospital in Goma, capital of strife-torn North Kivu province. “They are also helping local medical professionals by transferring skills and by offering professional advice to the local populace.”
On any given day, hospital staff handle civilian cases ranging from malaria to gunshot wounds. Late last week, doctors treated airline passengers for severe stress and minor injuries after their Congolese plane over-shot the runway at Goma International Airport and crashed into a mound of lava rock.
“The hospital with its specialist medical equipment and professional acumen treated 19 injured passengers,” said Brigadier General Ajae Kumar Sharma, Commander of the North Kivu Brigade of the UN mission, known as MONUC. “Most of the patients had severe stress reaction for which counselling and medication were provided.”
The hospital, operational since March, has a staff of 90, covering general medical care and surgery, anaesthesiology, pathology, gynaecology, radiology, psychiatry, dermatology, ophthalmology and dentistry.
So far this year, some 950 local civilians have been successfully treated for common complaints including hypertension, diabetes, malaria, infectious and diarrhoeal disorders, and a range of skin diseases. Civilians have also been treated for fractures, appendicitis, wounds and lacerations and have received plastic and reconstructive surgery.
The hospital laboratory handles biopsies and other testing that is unavailable elsewhere in eastern DRC and is critical to the overall state of health and hygiene in the surrounding community.
About 400 primary school children have been screened this year for eye problems that could lead to blindness if left untreated. Among the most common eye ailments are allergic conjunctivitis, refractive errors, cataracts and glaucoma. Congenital cataracts in infants and children as well as glaucoma patients have been treated and MONUC plans to improve infrastructure at a local eye hospital by procuring specialized equipment for it.
The hospital also has plans to run a regional dental camp for civilians.
Lt-Col. Bhattacharya is a psychiatrist and conducts regular stress management courses for MONUC military contingents in North and South Kivu.