Hospitals and healthcare in Africa and other non-Western areas receive resoundingly bad press.
For healthcare in rural areas, that is indeed the case. Few doctors, little medication, and few nurses. But in cities, quite reasonable healthcare can be found for many illnesses not requiring sophisticated lab facilities. Over the years I’ve been hospitalized in three countries: Egypt, for schistosomiasis and related surgery, Sudan, for a mystery fever/disease that turned out to be cerebral malaria, and most recently here in Burundi, for ophthalmic shingles – by far the most painful and long-lasting of illnesses with which I’ve been afflicted.
I stayed in a hospital/clinic in Bujumbura, in a private room with 2 beds, a small refrigerator, and adjoining bathroom. $18.00 a day. The room and bathroom were cleaned 2x daily with antiseptic. Two beds, because the 2nd bed is for your caregiver who stays with you day and night. All of your sheets, towels, soap (etc.) are supplied by you – and also meals. I had the great benefit of being supplied all of these things by the Hotel Club du Lac, where I provide consulting services. It is an excellent system, because you can have sheets, etc changed when you want – and arrange for whatever foods and drink that you think you can eat.
Doctors are on the whole well-trained – I had no problems with the doctors who treated me here. The doctor’s aides come around regularly to do blood pressure, injections, and other requirements given by the doctors. These young men and women do a 3 year course after university and are generally very good.
One of the biggest difficulties are with medications – many out-of-the way meds are not always available here. Also, doctors are not always up to speed on latest procedures, and for this, I had friends who talked with specialists in their own countries and forwarded information – which was always well-received by the doctors here (most of whom realise their relative isolation).
For unavailable meds, I had friends who brought them into the country. So that has been no problem. But morphine was a problem. I was on maximum doses of morphine for several months However, it is only available for the military, but my chief doctor also treats the military and so was able to access it.
Burundians are great visitors. Nightly – and especially on weekends – groups of friends and family of those hospitalized come to visit. In fact, visiting friends and family in a hospital is so much a part of social life here, that there is a notice in each room on the door reading: “NO MORE THAN 4 VISITORS IN THE ROOM AT A TIME.” (In french and Kirundi). So, larger groups collect out in the halls to chat and take turns going in the room of the ill person. And, although there are visiting hours, people can basically visit whenever they want.
In addition to European and American friends, I had every night several staff from the Hotel who visited – from cuisine, service, marketing, maintenance, etc and also visitors from the village near where I live. It was unusual (and a disappointment!) if there were no visitors. Friends brought juices, jewelry, candy, chocolates, pizzas – and many other wonderful things in addition to themselves.
Sometimes a group (or just one) person, either from the Hotel or from the village, would pray over me. This is the first time I experienced such an event and found it quite resting. Though I must say, it is a bit disconcerting to wake up and find a row of people standing over you praying!
I was quite touched when a general in the Burundi army whom I’ve known almost since coming here came to visit. He now is stationed with Burundi troops doing peacekeeping in Somalia. I was really pleased when he appeared, given his hectic schedule prior to (another) departure for Somalia.
And I was amused when two senior staff of the Hotel came to visit, sat down together on the second bed – and it cracked!
My main caregiver was a lovely young lady who belongs to a Catholic group that provides caregiving services to several of the clinics in town. She was really wonderful. Also, some of the villagers stayed the night when she couldn’t – or just to spend the night. Some nights there would be 3 or 4 people spread out here and there, who helped to scout down the nurses when I had a problem..
One of the boys from the village – now a senior in high school – was so interested in the medical side of things that he’s decided to go into medicine. He’s very bright and I’ve no doubt that he can succeed. (Egid, the middle boy, below.)
When ready to leave the clinic, I stayed about a month at the Hotel gaining strength, watching movies – a good friend gave me a DVD/etc – and trying to eat again. For the several months in the clinic I could only eat fresh fruit salad – and, believe it or not – dark chocolates, which were brought me by several European friends.
Thank you, hotel club du lac! Thank you, all of my friends and colleagues!