UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2008 / 0423-Providing Health to All

Providing Health to All

by Michelle Scott*

April 23, 2008—The boxes of antibiotics, analgesics and anti-malarial drugs that arrived in late March at Mpasa United Methodist Medical and Nutrition Center outside of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, were the first medicines they have received in over a year. In the meantime Dr. Rebecca Yohandi has been purchasing medicines from her own pocket to provide some assistance to the Mpasa community of 22,500 people who live in extreme poverty.

There is only one doctor at the hospital along with four nurses and 11 assistants. A freezer and a small generator with some drugs were donated to the center by UNICEF just over a year ago. Since then, there's been nothing and most of Mpasa's residents cannot even pay the registration fee of approximately 35 cents that would normally go to keep the center running.

The medicines delivered by the United Methodist Committee on Relief will boost this hospital's ability to respond to some of the area's most basic needs. "This donation is a big relief for the low income inhabitants of Mpasa community," said Dr. Yohandi.

"I Will be The First to Come"

During a ceremony celebrating the donation an elderly woman asked if she could speak. She explained through her tears how her daughter died six months ago, leaving her with three young children to care for. The youngest child, three years old, nearly died a week ago from diarrhea. A neighbor saved the girl's life by giving them money to pay for treatment at a local center. All three children suffer from malnutrition and other illnesses. "I will be the first to come here tomorrow with my granddaughters," the woman said. The newly-donated medicines were given with the stipulation that they be dispensed free of charge—making them accessible to even the poorest of the Mpasa community.

More Deliveries to Take Place

The medicine distribution at Mpasa is the first of 11 to take place in the coming months. It is the culmination of the efforts of Dr. Pamela Couture, vice president and dean at Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, MO. Her request to bring a gift to the area she had developed close ties to during her research led to a donation of $14 million in medicines given by Islamic Relief USA for the people of the Congo.

This is the first of two medical distributions. A shipment of durable medical supplies are also planned to provide hospitals with functional beds, mattresses and more.

UMCOR DR Congo is facilitating the distribution of these medicines and supplies. UMCOR's long-standing commitment to serve vulnerable people without regard to race or religion as well as the organization's history of development in the Congo led Saint Paul to involve UMCOR in the project.

Medicine in the Congo

When, at a recent event at Saint Paul School of Theology, photos of one of the recipient hospitals was shown, the audience sat in stunned silence. "I am shocked," said one of the donors who made the medical distribution possible.

The state of Congo's hospitals and health centers are notoriously poor. The years of unrest and lack of reliable transportation have led to terrible conditions throughout the country's health system. Most of the estimated 5 million people who have died in the last 10 years of Congo's conflict have died from malnutrition or other easily treatable conditions. There is simply no medical care available for many of Congo's communities.

This injection of medicines and medical supplies will save countless lives.

UMCOR in DR Congo

UMCOR has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1999 through its non-governmental organization to assist the Katanga region, an area heavily impacted by war. UMCOR's current programs involved agricultural assistance for 15,000 farmers, a microfinance program that helps 7,000 small businesses and a girl's scholarship and mentoring program that benefits more than 2,000 students. The United Methodist Church has a long history in the region.

*Scott is the executive secretary for UMCOR communications