Thursday, February 9, 2023
“St. Joseph Hospital needs at least five doctors,” says Sister Susan Akullo. “At the moment, there are three of us. One has worked here at least ten years without a break, so we will soon be just two.” Since 1994, the Comboni Missionaries have kept the doors open here twenty-four hours a day. Doctors and nurses are in short supply, but that’s not the most striking lack here. [In the picture: St. Joseph Hospital in Bébédjia, Chad, is a refuge for the local people, who have few other options]
“Many important drugs are out of stock in the whole country,” Sister Susan says. “Our greatest need are for things that are used daily – sterile gloves for surgeries, surgical sutures, urinary catheters, disinfectants, antiseptics, echography gel . . . even gauze.”
“We try to use materials very well. For the operating room, we use a sewing machine to stitch small pieces of gauze together so they can be sterilized and reused. Anything that can be sterilized and reused, we do.”
Whenever volunteers visit or missionaries return from a trip abroad, they carry whatever they can in their luggage. The hospital used to get its supplies from the international dispensary association (IDA), but the cost is now beyond what it can afford. Friends and relatives tried to fill the gap by sending supplies in the mail, “but for a few years now, the post is not working,” she says. Most delivery services are blocked and the few that can get through are too costly.
Originally from Uganda, Sister Susan first came here as a nurse in 2009. Even then she had to take charge of medical and surgery wards when a doctor was not available. As she prepared to take her final vows in 2013, she was asked to study medicine. “I felt too old to start such a study,” she says. But “for the love of God and for the good of the mission, I accepted the challenge and finished school in 2020 with a medical internship.”
As a new general doctor, she works with another Comboni Sister who is also a doctor. “None of us is a surgeon,” she says, “but we have to do all the general surgeries, obstetric, gynecologic, and orthopedic surgeries. These are new challenges for me because I just came from Uganda, where specialists are available, but here the only specialists are in the capital city nearly four hundred miles away. My poor villagers, whom we try to refer, have never been to the capital and they don’t have money to travel and then manage the high cost of treatment.”
St. Joseph is the best, and sometimes the only, choice for the local people. When the Sisters suggest a specialist, family members will ask to simply take their loved one home to die. They have no other options.
“Despite all the challenges, I am happy to be able to make my little contribution to this hospital and help the needy, sick people. I could say, like our founder St. Daniel Comboni, ‘I wish I had a thousand lives to offer to this mission.’ I have a big heart, and a huge passion with lots of love, but I am just one person.”
[Kathleen M. Carroll - Comboni Missionaries]