Hope Arrives on a Truck in Tambacounda
Jun 03, 2015
Dear Friend of AFLK:
On May 5, a truckload of splendid hospital equipment arrived at Tambacounda Hospital. The surgical operating table, hospital crib, seven beds for the intensive care unit, incubators, IV poles, boxes of baby bottles, syringes, speculums, bandages, surgical gloves, and other supplies had started their journey in Denver, Colorado. It took eleven years for this to happen, but the material is already being used, and the gift has been celebrated by local doctors and government officials and in the newspapers, giving people in that isolated city, statistically the hottest on the planet, incalculable happiness.
The bill of lading reads like poetry to me. And even though the videos of the arrival sent to me by the hospital’s superb and devoted director include, in one instance, the sight of a carton of supplies falling off the back of the densely packed truck in which it arrived, one can feel nothing but joy about this.
In 2004, when Gilles Degois took me to Senegal for the first time, we went to Tambacounda Hospital. He handed over a duffle bag full of vials of blood, desperately needed there, which he had brought with him from Paris. The director gave us a tour. He showed me the one surgical operating table, so dilapidated that it could no longer be raised or lowered, and told me that a second table had been stolen en route. I resolved in my mind to try to get them a new table, and, returning to my usual haunts, asked friends at Yale New Haven Hospital and doctors in New York and Ireland if there were discarded tables available for this part of the world where a secondhand table, not necessarily the latest model which would be wanted at more prosperous institutions, would be an incredible gift. There were lots of promises, and no follow-through.
Then, some three years ago, a friend, Deborah Kobe Norris, took interest in what AFLK was doing. Debbie joined one of our trips, after which her daughter Ellie, excited by what she learned about us, did research on used medical equipment in the U.S. Ellie discovered Project C.U.R.E., an exceptional non-profit organization based in Denver that has warehouses full of material no longer considered prime by American hospitals, but renovated as needed and in good working order. AFLK got in touch with Project C.U.R.E. and funded the trip of Dr. Martina Schulte who does site visit evaluations for the organization to determine equipment needs. Marty’s report resulted in Project C.U.R.E. approving the donation of three containers of material, with highly detailed lists of what was most necessary having been worked out by our indefatigable director Allegra Itsoga, Marty, and doctors and nurses in Dakar, Sinthian, and Tambacounda.
Moustapha Diouf saw to the details of the first two containers, ensuring that their contents were delivered to Fann Hospital and the clinics in Sinthian, Fass, and elsewhere. And, less than two weeks ago, Louis Valentin went through hell and high water to hand original documents to the right people and overcome unimaginable bureaucratic obstacles in order to get that precious container through Senegalese customs. At one point, the situation became so dicey that I wrote to anyone I thought might help, and Azeb Rufin and Seydou Badiane, the first in Paris and the second in Senegal, responded immediately and went to bat for us with the right people. Louis plugged away tirelessly, practically sleeping on the docks. He prevailed, and the container was released. It was unloaded, with the rich contents filling a large truck to the brim, and finally transported on the ten hour journey to Tambacounda.
We agreed to fund the containers and the transport; Project C.U.R.E. agreed to give material worth about $1.5 million. I went to Dakar to meet with the Minister of Health to obtain an exoneration of import duties and other charges at customs, since, as is now the case in Nepal, the government usually imposes prohibitive taxes and fees even on donations to non-profits from non-profits. My greatest fear had been that, as happens with so many gifts to Senegal, the donation would sit in the port and then eventually be returned to the donor or sent elsewhere.
Tambacounda Hospital is the only hospital in a vast region. It is at a crossroads for travelers to Mali and Guinea, where a large population is treated for malaria, the consequences of road accidents, and a range of other illnesses and difficulties. It has a staff of dedicated professionals, a devoted director who has moved from the comforts of Dakar to this less desirable outpost in order to serve the people in his country who most need him, and, above all, patients who simply want to live and enjoy decent health.
We thank you wholeheartedly for all that you have done to make this possible.
Nicholas Fox Weber