AusHeal Blog

Farewell to Congo for 2018

AusHEAL bids farewell to HEAL Africa Hospital for 2018 as Dr Neil Wetzig (AusHEAL Congo Project Director) and Gwen Wetzig (AusHEAL Congo Project Administrator) leave Goma to return home to Australia before the end of the year.

AusHEAL teams will begin returning to DRC in February 2019, subject to safety and stability after the Congolese elections due to be held the end of this December.

Pictures below leave parting glimpses to the work in 2018.


Excessive pathology continues to be referred to HEAL Africa Hospital (HAH) for surgery – abdominal catastrophes, genital fistulae – often from Caesarian section misadventure in rural areas, congenital abnormalities, massive spleens, trauma, dealing with the poor results from traditional medicines, burns scars etc.

Complex surgery made more difficult… i.e. splenectomy when the patient has low clotting factors.  

With such cases Dr Neil, during his stay over the last 4 months, has been able to be a surgical resource, mentor, and instructor with HEAL Africa Hospital staff, trainees and staff specialists.



A main thrust of Dr Neil’s involvement continues to be the COSECSA program of training young doctors to a qualification from the College of Surgeons of East, Central & Southern Africa.

Expanding knowledge, understanding and clinical experience for the 6 COSECSA Trainees pictured with Neil and Gwen and Dr Muller (far left), a valuable trainer in the program.

Dr Jacques is the one COSECSA trainee in 2018 who passed his preliminary exams, enabling him to sit for his final. News has just come through that he has passed.

Dr Jacques being grilled by Dr Neil in preparation for the final COSECSA exam. 

Dr Neil at the College Examinations in Rwanda


One thrust of the HAH COSECSA education program is to enable trainees to attend further international training and networking with the surgical college attending the COSECSA Annual Scientific Congress 5-7 December. AusHEAL sponsors the trainees transport and conference costs.

Exhibition & Convention Centre, Kigali Rwanda – venue for the COSECSA exams & Annual Scientific Congress 5-7 December




All 6 HAH trainees attended together with Dr Medard (HAH general surgeon) and Dr Jo (Orthopaedic Surgeon and founder of HAH)  

The last COSECSA training session at HEAL Africa Hospital before Neil & Gwen left Goma – Christmas shortbread, wafers & chocolate eclairs disappeared as quickly as they were put out onto a plate a special treat !!  

Entering the 2019 COSECSA program, currently sponsored by AusHEAL, are 2 new trainees pictured with Dr Neil. Dr Bienvenue (centre) a previous team interpreter for AusHEAL)and Dr Mechak (right).

AusHEAL – HEAL Africa Training Centre Update …..

Work on the Training Centre continues towards completion. A further container is expected in the New Year sponsored by Sonic Australia. It will bring extra building supplies from Australia to complete the fit-out of the Centre. Education programs in the new Centre are eagerly awaited by the HAH staff, empowering the trained specialists at HAH to now teach and train others.

Large training room inside the HATS building.

The outside of the HATS building now painted matching other Hospital buildings.


English lessons with Gwen continued with Finance & Management staff and COSECSA trainees (with a special request for specialised English in Nursing next visit).


Excitement at the wedding of Dr Jacques and his bride Olga – a beautiful occasion. 


Sunset over Lake Kivu as Neil & Gwen bid farewell in 2018 to HEAL Africa. 
















The HEAL Africa Hospital (HAH) surgical workload has been carried by Dr Neil Wetzig as his Congolese General Surgical colleague has been away on ‘surgical outreach’ repairing cleft lips and palates. There has been an abundance of very sick patients with many and varied conditions. Patients undergoing surgery who have healed well have been discharged. A few, however, have sadly succumbed including a 3-day old baby with an unusual congenital syndrome and dying bowel.

In the last 3 weeks there have been 5 cases of what we term ‘Abdominal Catastrophe’ referred from rural health centres – mostly young women who have a Caesarean Section but the bowel has been cut.  After unsuccessful surgical attempts to repair the complications, patients are eventually sent to HEAL Africa Hospital. Subsequent management of these patients is complex. Surgery takes several hours. They require intense post-operative care. Neil has been feeling exhausted. There have also been other large tumours requiring removal, as well as complex cases where surgery was not required – but all are good teaching exercises for our basic surgical trainees.


The AusHEAL Hospital Patient Fund (A.H.P.F.) has enabled some poor patients to be given medical care at the Hospital.  So many people in eastern Congo are very poor and therefore medical care is just out of reach for such people.  The AHPF helps those genuinely in need and provides practical training for young doctors being trained by AusHEAL volunteers.  This young boy is one example of a patient who was treated by the AHPF. 



Welcome back Dr Kigayi – AusHEAL has sponsored Dr Kigayi’s specialist training in Anaesthesiology in Tanzania for the last 3 years. He has recently completed his training and able to be registered as one of the few specialist anaesthetic doctors in DRCongo, the majority of anaesthetics being given by nurse-anaesthetists. Dr Kigayi has returned to HEAL Africa Hospital bringing not only specialised skills to the anaesthetic service, but also leadership to the team.

Dr Kigati (left) with Shabani (head nurse-anaesthetist) at HEAL Africa Hospital


HAH COSECSA TRAINING SCHEME (College of Surgeons of East, Central & Southern Africa)

COSECSA training at HEAL Africa Hospital, sponsored  & pioneered by AusHEAL, continues with the 6 Hospital Trainees. Sadly, only one of the 3 senior Trainees who sat their written exams in early September, passed.  Our Trainers considered this exam to be quite difficult and requiring a high standard to pass. The results do not reflect the hard work or progress that has been made by the trainees since the course commenced.

COSECSA trainers Dr Muller (HAH) (left), & Dr Neil (AusHEAL) (2nd left) with current COSECSA trainees

The priority now, is to coach Dr Jacques (the senior trainee who passed) for his oral exam to be held on 3 December in Kigali.  Dr Neil will be an examiner for the College in the COSECSA examinations 

A Basic Surgical Skills Course held in Kigali, Rwanda recently was attended by the 3 HAH junior COSECSA Trainees – a requirement of the MCS (Membership of the College of Surgeons) course.  All 3 found the course to be practically helpful and enjoyed the learning experience.  Dr Neil participated as one of the Course Trainers. It was a great chance for Neil to be with our Trainees, as well as meeting up again with Scottish COSECSA trainers from the College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, whom he has met previously, together with networking with colleagues from Rwanda.

Basic Surgical Science course in Kigali, Rwanda

Dr Neil with the 3 HEAL Africa new trainees at the COSECSA Basic Science course


The new Community Health Centre for Women & Children  at HEAL Africa Hospital is about to become a reality.  Plans have been drawn, funding has been approved by AMADE MONDIALE (the foundation of the late Princess Grace of Monaco and now overseen by her daughter, Princess Caroline) A Memorandum of Understanding is being negotiated, and this past week a meeting was held with a local Banking Development Manager to arrange management of funds for the construction of this new building.  As some of this arises from the visit to Monaco last April by Neil & Gwen Wetzig, these negotiations are providing other significant issues for Neil & Gwen to deal with.



The AusHEAL-HEAL Africa Training Centre is progressing well with doors about to be fitted and windows to follow.  The external walls were painted last week to match the rest of the building. The Training Centre being the top floor of the multi-story Outpatients building. Once it is to lock-up stage we can think about ‘moving in’. We hope that happens before Neil & Gwen leave in early December.

AusHEAL-HEAL Africa TRAINING CENTRE now painted (the top story)


The Container, jointly sent by Brisbane’s Mater Hospital and DHL, arrived recently. Whilst this was very good news, the container had to be returned to Dar es Salaam with the truck due to a misunderstanding in Australia. The original intention was for the container to remain at HEAL Africa Hospital. Therefore, a rush ensued to have the container unloaded as soon as possible. Last Saturday was the only time it could be done. The day was dull and it rained. About 5 or 6 ‘officials’ from Customs/the transport company ‘agent’/government office all had to be present when the container was unlocked and unloaded. They each had to make an individual list of what was unpacked from the container.  Interesting process….. a long and eventually hot day…… tiring!  Importantly, the contents had travelled well from Brisbane with valuable needed contents (not monetary value) received for the AusHEAL-HEAL Africa Training Centre and the Hospital.

Unloading the Container sent by Mater Hospital, Brisbane, Australia

Goma, D.R.Congo …..


Total cases of Ebola in the Beni area of North Kivu Province are estimated at 287. (Confirmed cases 252 + Probable cases 35) with 181Deaths (146 Confirmed + Probable 35). This is now the largest outbreak in Congo’s history, but has thankfully not yet reached Goma.


Anti-Government Protests were peacefully held in Goma on Friday 26th October. In the capital Kinshasa the next day, thousands of pro-Government supporters gathered in a large stadium. Locally, lawlessness is increasing and political marches are becoming more frequent.  We (Neil & Gwen) remain vigilant. The Electoral Commission visited the hospital to educate staff and patients how to use the computerised voting ‘machine’. The vast majority of the population cannot read or write, complicating the Electoral Commission’s endeavours.


The new Fistula Building is among the triad of new buildings in 2018 at HEAL Africa Hospital, in addition to the AusHEAL-HEAL Africa Training Centre and Amade Mondiale Community Health Centre for Women and Children. The Fistula Building, funded by the Fistula Foundation, opened mid-October. At the opening the excitement of women was contagious as they entered the new building, singing and dancing, in appreciation for this new facility.

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 has been awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Dr Denis Mukwege has devoted his life to defending victims of wartime sexual violence in DRCongo.

Dr Mukwege leads the PANZI Hospital in Bukavu, capital of SOUTH Kivu province in eastern DRCongo. Goma is the capital of NORTH Kivu province, separated from its southern counterpart by Lake Kivu. HEAL Africa Hospital is centrally involved in fistula repair throughout its own province in North Kivu. The above building is testimony.

Heal Africa Hospital’s founder, Dr Jo Lusi, was instrumental in Dr Mukwege’s specialising in gynaecology and, in fistula repair. Dr Jo recently paid visit to Dr Mukwege to offer congratulations and encouragement on his award.

This is Goma, where we live !!

Gwen & Neil Wetzig

Gwen & Neil Wetzig write:

“We are constantly reminded of the richness, vibrancy and colour of where we are living….” 

Leaving the hospital at 6pm one Friday night, we walked out the back entrance to find everything in the street had stopped still – for the first time in 12 years we had come across the flag-lowering tradition where everything and everyone stops – until the flag has been lowered – and then everything and everyone just start moving again.  (We had experienced this in the mornings at 7.30am when the flag was raised – and often wondered if the same occurred in the evenings!)

Things that women carry on their heads here…..

  • up to 20 cabbages in a bowl
  • a large sack of powdered milk the size of a cement bag (carried upright, not flat!!!)
  • a vacuum cleaner →
  • a single boot
  • up to 5 or 6 layers of fresh eggs in cardboard layers

Things that are carried on motos (motorbikes) here…..

  • 2 wooden chairs (right)                  
  • Large window frames
  • Long lengths of piping
  • Car tyres
  • Fresh meat – carcass of a cow
  • A female passenger hugging on to a live turkey under her arm

Things carried here on tshukudus (wooden push-bikes) pronounced ‘chookoodoo’

  • 2-3 large sacks of charcoal (right) – and when one topples off, other tshukudu ‘pushers’ stop to help
  • Multiple large sacks of potatoes and other produce to and from markets
  • Cupboards, beds and other furniture
  • Image by Albert Kambale – AFP News


“Reminders of our surrounding reality ….”

  •  Farewelling our team at Goma airport, the airstrip was dotted with lots of aircraft…including those of the UN / Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) / World Food Program / Aide Humanitaire
  •  During a prayer in church the pastor said he was “grateful to be among those who are alive today”
  •  Where the leader of the country, scheduled to step aside in 2016, has agreed to elections in December this year, but blocked opposition candidates from participating or entering the country to register.
  •  Where our HEAL Africa Hospital Emergency Physician is communicating to students from the local deaf school about ‘the E-word’….EBOLA and its prevention, and, where for 2 consecutive days he has been ‘in the field’ educating the community about Ebola prevention
  • Where reports from the town of BENI (500km north of GOMA) revealed last weekend was so stressful in the city following the attack by rebels from a neighbouring country. The attack occurred in the middle of the town killing 19 persons including 15 civilian and 4 soldiers. Many others were wounded and treated.
  • Also, 6 persons travelling by bus from GOMA to BUTEMBO (60kms south of Beni) were reported to be kidnapped by another group of rebels.  There is enough difficulty taking care of both victims of the current Ebola outbreak and the wounded. It is really is a very complicated situation. (Something like 88 have died from this highly contagious disease outside BENI.)
  • The President of the nation was in New York this month addressing the United Nations General Assembly 
  • Where, during a COSECSA Training session on ‘spleens’, one of the Trainers mentioned that “if there is a war with the elections, there may be spleen injuries”

Storm passing over our accommodation on the shore of Lake Kivu


This is the end of September when there is less than 3 months till the scheduled December election

“This is life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. …..This is Goma where we live!” 

Congo NEWS

AUSHEAL in October 

Visiting AusHEAL Team – September 2018   


  • the final week of AusHEAL’s visiting September teams was quite busy with team members finalising training programs, distributing certificates of training to their Congolese colleagues and saying their goodbyes. In chapel on the last Friday morning there was loud celebration in appreciation of the contribution made by the  teams – one of the Interpreters even wrote and sang a special song of thanks urging the team members to ‘please come back again’!!!
  • 16 AusHEAL Team members all in red shirts departed Goma airport on SATURDAY 15th September and
  • arrived safely (with their luggage) back in Brisbane Australia early on the following MONDAY morning
  • Team member, Paul  (after being here 10 weeks) departed DR Congo the following Monday, having left a great contribution to HEAL Africa in terms of IT, cabling & support, mentoring, chaplaincy training and building supervision & advice

    AusHEAL Team Farewell from HEAL Africa Hospital

    Team debrief, held at the end of each day at HEAL Africa

    Paul (centre) with Bizi (HEAL Africa) (left) and Dr Neil (right)


Responses received from senior HEAL Africa Hospital staff following the Workshop (reported in our last newsletter) included:

  1. “Thank you so much for the well organized and helpful workshop. We hope this will improve healthcare at HEAL AFRICA. My mentor told me when I came back from Makerere University “Never stop learning”.  It has been very helpful to all of us. Please say thanks to AusHEAL team.  ASANTE SANA” (“thank you very much” in Swahili)
  2. “Thank you very much for asking me to participate in this year’s workshop. Thank you for the wonderful organization. It was very good, exciting. Thank you for helping HEAL Africa to improve the care of patients, the care of our Congolese brothers and sisters”


We still await the written exam results for the 3 senior COSECSA Trainees. (College of Surgeons of East, Central & Southern Africa) Planning is underway for all our Trainees and some Trainers to attend the annual COSECSA Scientific Congress held during the first week of December in Kigali, Rwanda.

One junior trainee commented to Gwen that he had “obtained his computer from AusHEAL”…… quickly followed by saying  “I bought this with the money I earned from interpreting for AusHEAL teams a few years ago”.   Proof of a ‘double blessing’ to medical students who interpret for our teams

One of the senior COSECSA trainees giving his presentation on “Splenic Preservation”

During a ward round,  Dr Neil asked one of the Senior COSECSA Trainees about an in-patient. He was able to identify the issue, think through the solution and come up with the right response.  He said, “before COSECSA training we did not know any of this – we would have to go and ask someone in the Internal Medicine Department – but now we know this for ourselves and understand how to work out the diagnosis and treatment.”  This is why we are here !!

Clinical Challenges…..

  • a baby with a large kidney tumour – she underwent successful surgery but arrested some hours later, presumed due to a reaction to the small blood transfusion given after her operation – 3 team members were involved in resuscitating her in ICU before Dr Neil even heard there was a problem. The surgical team were still in the Operating Theatre with another difficult case. Sadly, she died during the early hours of the following morning. So devastating for all involved!
  • a young man who had tried to take his own life by drinking acid, was permanently left with a hugely scarred and narrowed oesophagus (stricture) such that he could barely swallow.  The narrowing was corrected by removing the scarred oesophagus in his chest and replaced with bowel transferred from his abdomen in an 8-hour operation. Huge surgery. He is now able to eat again as a result and has now been discharged.

    Oesophageal by-pass patient with the surgical team (photo with permission)

    Successfully now able to eat

  • a further malnourished man who also drank acid after a fight with his wife. He required excision of a tight stricture of his oesophagus and bypass of his narrowed duodenum, the outlet of his stomach. Successful surgery. A week later his abdominal wound sprang open! He was just so malnourished that his healing ability was hugely impaired, in spite of good nutritional feeding by a tube before his operation to build him up
  • a young female pedestrian hit by a car admitted to HEAL Africa Hospital (HAH) with one leg almost amputated and the other severely injured. She underwent surgery to both legs with a nerve block rather than general anaesthetic. Blood transfusion had been refused as she was a Jehovah’s Witness, significantly compromising her ability to survive a general anaesthetic. The nerve block used had only recently been taught by Dr Luke, our visiting AusHEAL team anaesthetist. The young lady is surviving, in spite of her extremely low blood count
  • many other operations continue to be done, including women who have had bad outcomes from previous Caesarean sections elsewhere in the Province

HATS Training Centre…..

  • The visiting AusHEAL Teams were taken on a tour through the top floor of the Outpatients Building to inspect the progress of the construction of the HEAL Africa Training Centre (H.A.T.S.).  It is hoped that construction will be completed and the centre mostly fitted out prior to Neil and Gwen’s return to Australia late 2018
  • Last Friday the ‘Building Committee’ also toured the construction. Dr Neil was able to further enhance their understanding of capacity-building into Health through the use of a dedicated Training Centre
  • Recently, AusHEAL team members Neil, Paul and Tim went shopping with ‘Bizi’ (HAH Technical Department Chief) to look for electrical goods for the skills laboratory. Neil went back with Bizi a week later and the goods were purchased and transported to HAH.   A surreal experience
  • A container provided by the Mater Hospital Brisbane and DHL, recently shipped from Brisbane with many items for the new Training Centre and associated Skills Workshop, was scheduled to arrive in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania this past weekend. It will be trucked directly to Goma, and hopefully, arrive at the hospital in about a week’s time

    Team inspection of the H.A.T.S. Centre

    Large Training Room

    Window frame construction

    Painting progress

    H.A.T.S. Building Committee in the facility

AusHEAL Congo Project – 2019-2021 strategic planning …..

  • Members of the AusHEAL Congo Project Steering Committee, who were in Goma, met with members of HEAL Africa senior staff for joint discussions regarding the next 3-year project of AusHEAL partnering with HEAL Africa in association with the Global Development Group. The meeting gave opportunity for HEAL Africa to suggest ways in which they would like AusHEAL to support their work, be it personnel and training, financial or logistical.
  • One of the main concerns for HEAL Africa was that up till now AusHEAL has invested significant effort, time and logistical resources into clinical training.  The senior hospital executive expressed their desire for AusHEAL to work with them on preventative health measures and Primary Health Care.

    AusHEAL Congo Project STEERING COMMITTEE meeting with the senior HEAL Africa Executive



Construction progress…..

Pictured is continuing work on the Women’s and Children’s Inpatient Pavilion – where it joins one of the existing buildings.  Also the Fistula Care Building is almost completed and is due to be officially opened on 12th October. These two hospital buildings are separate and distinct from the AusHEAL sponsored training centre above.


Ebola ‘Sensitization’

HEAL Africa has undertaken a community role of helping to educate community groups on Ebola prevention.  Students from the Ephphatha Deaf school visited HAH for a training session given by Dr Muller (HAH Emergency Physician).  The special thing about this group is that one of the school’s partners is an Australian-based organisation, WorldShare, based in Sydney – who also partner with HEAL Africa and who, along with AusHEAL and Sonic Healthcare, comprise the HEAL Africa-Australian Alliance meeting annually to co-ordinate and co-operate in supporting HEAL Africa.

Solar Buddy distribution…..

36 ‘Solar Buddy’ lights constructed by Year 6 students from Rochedale State School (Queensland, Australia) on Brisbane’s southside, were distributed by AusHEAL to Senior form students who are part of the HEAL Africa Child Sponsorship Program (administered by HEAL Africa Australian partner, WorldShare).  Rochedale State School is an internationally-minded school, keen to look beyond their area & help others in need around the world. Students from Goma DR Congo were grateful to receive their solar lights to enable them to study after dark, when there is no electricity for household lighting.

UN Hospital CME Day….. 

Senior HEAL Africa Hospital staff were invited to attend the UN Hospital CME Day (Clinical Medical Education) at the new UN Hospital compound in Goma. Attendance was by specific personal invitation only.  Security was quite tight. Visitors had to ‘sign in’ a few times and, once seated had to sign another sheet of paper.  Gwen was listed as ‘Dr Gwen Wetzig’.  “First and probably last time that will ever happen” – she thought!

Three HAH doctors (Dr Muller, Emergency Physician; Dr Simplice, Orthopaedic Surgeon; and Dr Justin Jnr, one of our junior COSECSA trainees who spoke on behalf of Dr Medard, General Surgeon) ably gave presentations on clinical work at HAH.

UN hospitality was warm and friendly. There was good opportunity for ‘making connections’ between the UN Hospital, HEAL Africa Hospital and the Provincial Hospital.  It was unanimously agreed that all 3 hospitals could work more closely together. Such an encouragement.  Continuing medical deployment at the UN Hospital is from India. Those in the current deployment are keen to support HEAL Africa Hospital through clinical training.

Lunch at the UN Hospital


Training, Training, Training

Pictorial of visit by AusHEAL teams in 2018 

Welcome to AusHEAL Nurses in morning chapel

Welcome to members of the AusHEAL Medical team by the Medical Director of HEAL Africa Hospital


Monitoring a woman in labour

In discussions with Maternity staff

With Maternity nurse (left) and Chief of Health Centre (right)


Training staff in sterilisation procedures

Up-skilling Theatre Nurses on theatre instruments

Theatre Nurses & Medical Equipment Technician lecturing on care of equipment



Anaesthetist & Emergency Physician training staff on haemorrhage and blood loss

Medical Team Inspecting the Radiology Department

Cardiologist & Cardiac Sonographer with HAH Chief of Internal Medicine

AusHEAL sonographer training HEAL Africa radiographer


AusHEAL Practitioner training Family Medicine Program trainees

Building / Logistics / IT:

Working on cabling the new hospital building



AusHEAL TEAMS arrive

First impressions and comments:

2018 AusHEAL Medical and Nursing Teams

The AusHEAL Nursing Team arrived on Saturday 25 August followed by the Medical Team on Saturday 1 September.  In welcoming both teams, some of their first impressions included the following:

  • GOMA:  Traffic / People jumping in front of moving cars / Lots of people / nothing could have prepared me for it / sad seeing a lady sitting on the pavement with two children asleep on her lap / people walking everywhere
  • HEAL Africa:  overwhelming / a tear came to my eye seeing a little boy in Intensive Care / people grateful to see me return / staff using what they have….as they say “This is all we’ve got.” / gratitude for all that AusHEAL teams have done previously

Sickness has struck many of the team members – colds, headaches, fevers, tooth pain and diarrhoea….with a few needing to take days off.

Sadness continues to overcome the team – from watching children suffering pain and their cries, to witnessing 4 women after delivery sharing the one bed due to lack of space, and to having to resuscitate a 1-year old infant in intensive care during the afternoon, continuing into the night after successful morning surgery.

Smiling is irresistible seeing HEAL Africa staff after a teaching session catching a ‘volunteer’ out while trying to reiterate the main points of the teaching / watching the hospital staff using ‘what they already have’ to put into place an important treatment principle / entering a room to see HEAL Africa staff trained by AusHEAL in turn teaching & training fellow colleagues.

LECTURES: Team members have excelled in their preparation for lecture presentations.

AusHEAL Orthopaedic Nurses (left & right) going over their presentations with their Interpreter (centre)

Our Paediatric Intensive Care Nurse (centre) preparing with her Interpreter & the AusHEAL
Nursing Team Leader (left)

INTERPRETERS: As most of the nursing staff and patients do not speak English, AusHEAL arranges for English-speaking Medical Students to interpret for team members.  This has a two-fold effect – firstly our team members are able to communicate their teaching and training (both lecture-style and one-on-one); and secondly the medical students learn much theory of medicine and practical applications.  (In fact, one of our current COSECSA Junior Trainees commented on how valuable was his experience of interpreting for AusHEAL teams in previous years, that he believes he is a better doctor now.)

Team with interpreters


WORKSHOP: The annual AusHEAL Workshop for all clinical and administrative staff was held on Saturday 8 September.  This was attended by about 135 HEAL Africa staff.  The focus was Making Connections’ and the aim was to try to identify the ‘missing links’ in a chain of care by various staff and departments from admission of patients through to discharge, to ensure smooth processes and successful outcomes for the patients.

After lunch, workshop attendees worked together in their hospital departmental groups to discuss and develop individual plans to improve in 3 specific areas over the following 12 months.

One departmental group discussion following the morning Workshop

August 2018 – the beginning of things

PAUL BAKES has currently been at HEAL Africa Hospital (HAH) for about 3 weeks cabling the new hospital buildings for internet connectivity. He will remain in DRCongo for some months. Paul’s brother BRIAN arrived recently with Dr NEIL & GWEN WETZIG. Brian will be assisting Paul and also doing cabinetry work.

Paul Bakes

Dr Neil & Gwen arrived to renew acquaintances and begin a further 4 months at the hospital. Four days after their arriving…..some bad news regarding Neil’s Congolese surgical colleague at HAH, Dr Medard.  Coming home late after a wedding, his car broke down. He was subsequently attacked and robbed, and admitted unconscious to HAH. Neil was called into the hospital about 2.30am. Thankfully, by dawn Dr Medard had begun to gain some consciousness, but remained in hospital a couple of days. He had a week off work.  We are grateful to those who have prayed for him. He is now back at work and slowly recovering. It meant a heavier work load for Neil in his absence.

Neil, Gwen & Brian

Neil has continued teaching and training the 3 senior COSECSA Surgical Trainees as they are prepare to sit their written exams on the 5th of September. AusHEAL continues to fund hospital costs of very poor patients if they are being treated by AusHEAL team members, and, if their clinical problem and treatment can be used for teaching and training purposes. One 2-year old child treated by Neil in March this year under this program is improving.

Dr Neil teaching Surgical Trainees

The AusHEAL Nursing Team will arrive in Goma on Saturday 26 August, training HAH nurses for 3 weeks.


  • EBOLA has broken out in a town called Beni (about 500Km north of Goma) HAH’s Emergency Physician, Dr Muller, has been nominated as the HEAL Africa Representative for the Ebola response. Each afternoon he has been attending a debrief meeting at the Provincial Health Authority and reported back to HA senior staff each morning.
    • We understand that the outbreak has been contained in the Beni area, however WHO personnel have arrived in North Kivu Province and precautionary measures are being taken across Goma. At HEAL Africa, staff are no longer allowed to shake hands or hug in greeting each other; and handwashing & temperature-taking is mandatory on entering the hospital grounds.
    • The DRCongo Government and WHO have a record of being able to confine and manage the several outbreaks of Ebola that have occurred throughout the country.
    • Neil has communicated with those involved in the response.  He has kept the AusHEAL Board in Australia informed, assessing and minimising risk for the AusHEAL nursing and medical teams travelling to DRCongo at the end of the month.
  • Graduations: 4 Family Medicine Program DOCTORS graduated and were prayed for in Chapel on Friday morning. 7 Orthopaedic NURSING Officers have graduated and will now return to rural areas to offer basic orthopaedic care, including club foot treatment. These two training programs are part of the HEAL Africa Training Service (HATS) which Neil represented at the graduation.
  • HAH welcomes back Dr Cathy as a trained Ob/Gyn specialist. It is great to see Dr Cathy again as she was a resident at HAH many years ago. She will make a significant and welcome contribution to the hospitals Obstetric and Gynaecological service.

Neil with the Family Medicine Program Graduates


  • AusHEAL-HEAL Africa Training Centre:
    • Construction has progressed on the centre building. The roof is now on. Paul Bakes has been able to recommend changes to enable maximum use of the planned training rooms

      AusHEAL-HEAL Africa Training Centre progress – the top floor of the adjacent building

    • Equipment sourced from Brisbane is now on its way to Goma in a container arranged through DHL by the Mater Hospitals in Brisbane. The Training Centre above will be fitted out with some of the contents from this container. AusHEAL is grateful for the ongoing generosity and contribution from both the Mater Hospital and DHL. Some pics below from the container packing in Brisbane early August.


March 2018 Update

Dr Neil & Gwen Wetzig write from HEAL Africa Hospital (HAH) Goma DRCongo:


Practical Training in Surgery – Neil’s Story of the week …  

…..A milestone medical event for HEAL Africa Hospital during the week.  A 14-year old boy was hit in the head by a stone and languished in another hospital for 24 hours before arriving at HAH at midday on Tuesday.  He was assessed; had a CT scan of his head in the newly functioning scanner; was taken to the operating theatre for emergency surgery to drain a large extra-dural haematoma (blood clot) from his head to save his life…. with minutes to spare as he had a cardiac arrest as he was being anaesthetised. 

…..All completed by 4.30pm.  He was stable Tuesday night.  Although perhaps commonplace in the developed world, this was a unique experience for DRCongo and excellent teaching experience for our COSECSA trainees and other theatre staff.  One young life saved is worth fighting for!! 

…..One of the problems with any trauma is how quickly the correct initial treatment can be administered.  As can happen in Congo, the 24 hours delay for this teenager resulted in early damage having already occurred prior to his arrival at HEAL Africa.  Sadly, this boy died during the following Wednesday night due to the original injury accentuated by treatment delay.

COSECSA surgical training: 

….. Senior Trainees sat a trial MCQ (multiple-choice questions) test last week in preparation and training for their written exams during the first week of September this year. The questions were really tough – but toughness toughens them up to work hard and get some insight into what to expect.

….. Meanwhile the Junior Trainees (beginning this year) sat their ‘Pre-Test’ as an indicator of their current knowledge and understanding coming into the first year of the COSECSA course.

….. Both Seniors and Juniors are already a united group – helping and supporting each other.

COSECSA trainees at their trial exam

….. Gwen attends each of the Training Sessions and notes any difficulties with English – spelling, pronunciation and use of words. Following surgical training, she runs a 15-20 minute session teaching pronunciation, spelling, grammar etc.  We all enjoy these sessions with much humour and interaction (and learning too of course!!!)

AMC Congo held a Clinical Day today at HEAL Africa: 

…..  Dr Neil was invited to speak about COSECSA – not only the basic essential & emergency surgery teaching program at HAH, but also in the context of HAH beginning to help address the global burden of unmet surgical needs – which are highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and India.



Annual Reporting….. The 2-day meeting of the Assemblie General (AG) is preceded by a reporting day for the different ‘services’ (or departments) of HEAL Africa to present their annual reports to the AG. This was a great opportunity to hear about the enormous work being done by both the Hospital and the Outreach Programs. – and also now the newly formed HATS (HEAL Africa Training Scheme).

The HATS Management Team (HEAL Africa Training Schememet recently to prepare their report for presentation at the annual reporting day. A great encouragement was that Dr Medard (HAH surgeon) led strongly and facilitated each Training Department to report a brief summary of 2017, outline objectives for 2018 and also mention any anticipated challenges. He and others had learned this reporting & planning strategy from the HA Chief of Operations – Patrice.  How satisfying to see the Congolese sharing their strengths with each other, taking initiatives and becoming much more effective.

A desire to conduct research and write papers is also increasing. It was reported that 8 HEAL Africa staff had written and presented papers to various clinical meetings and conferences.

HEAL Africa Board visitors from the USA & UK:

US visiting team with Dr Justin and Dr Jo from HEAL Africa

The visiting USA medical team included 2 general surgeons, a family physician with his son (a physician’s assistant), and a plastic surgeon with his wife & daughter (both physicians’ assistants) providing excellent contributions to teaching and care in their areas of expertise.

Some together with the visiting CEO of HEAL-Africa-USA are members of the HEAL Africa AG timing the US team visit to coincide with the annual board meeting. Also present were AusHEAL’s David Kelly (& wife Heather Kelly) together with two representatives from the newly formed HEAL Africa-UK Board (Paluku Lusi and Martin Healy).

UK -USA reps

An important outcome was improvement in international relationships between DRCongo, USA, UK and Australia.

HATS-AusHEAL Training Centre:

Scaffolding ready to build the HATS-AusHEAL Training Centre

 Plans have been drawn and approved for the new storey to be built. Funding has been sent from AusHEAL in Australia to HEAL Africa to enable the project to proceed. Building materials are being purchased. Scaffolding is being collected close to the construction site. Staff are being notified that a temporary roof will be put in place over the existing Outpatients building so that no-one will need to evacuate during construction of the top floor for the Training Centre. Preliminary infrastructure will be put in place by the end of this week. Construction is scheduled to commence on Monday 26 March.

International Women’s Day:

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Gwen was able to attend the International Women’s Day celebrations by HEAL Africa women on Saturday 10 March at Maji Matulivu beside Lake Kivu.  Chairs were all in place by 8.45am ready for the 10 am start.  At 10 am there were 2 women sheltering in the shade of our balcony. By 10.45 a few more ladies arrived and finally things got underway about 11.30am.  There was joyful praise and worship, greetings and prayer.

One of the female doctors spoke about ‘Stress’ while another recently returned female specialist paediatrician spoke to the gathering on women’s health matters (with some added encouragements from the HA physiotherapist about specific women’s issues. A lot of laughter coming from the women!!) All this was followed by fun and games, skipping, frisbees and dancing.  Then at about 3pm lunch was served (scheduled on the program for 12.30pm).  All in all, a great day, and anyway, who cares about ‘time’ in Africa?

There is a saying that “God gave us Westerners watches….. but He gave the Africans TIME!”  How true it is.

Mrs Africa Queen 2014

Beauty Queen gives back … A few years ago, Gwen happened to be in the HEALing Arts sewing room when she met ‘Mrs Africa Queen 2014’ – from South Africa.  Coincidentally a couple of weeks ago, this beauty pageant winner showed up again with a film crew and was offering to support one area of the work of HEAL Africa – an area that does not attract external funding as it is not considered a disability – large neck goitres from diet-indices thyroid disease. Although this disfigurement is not regarded as a disability, the stigma attached to the problem of large goitres, particularly in women, is debilitating. It destroys a woman’s beauty and may often preclude a woman from getting married.

Neck goitre in the lady on the right

They were particularly impressed at being able to meet the women, and to see and film thyroid surgery being conducted.  She intends to spread the word about the plight of some of the poor Congolese who suffer from this condition and to raise support to bring healing and wholeness to these people.

“The Rains came down and the Floods came up”

During a Tuesday morning Chapel service recently, there was a huge storm. Water began pouring in through the roof in a number of places. Thunder roared over the already very loud loudspeakers, then lighting struck with an electrical flash inside the building.  Everything went quiet – well it went quiet inside the chapel, while outside the heavy rain continued pelting down on the roof, through the roof, and gradually flooding the front of the church. With the electrical equipment not working, the chapel brass instruments struck up in praise and worship, and singers gradually moved to the front and began singing, soon to be joined by the Uamsho dancers (ex-street boys) singing and dancing in the water!  Just another sign of the resilience of the Congolese!

Nearby volcanoes continue the reminder of multiple risks for the people of Goma and visiting international teams. 

February 2018 update

Neil & Gwen Wetzig have returned to HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma DRC for a further 2 months.

Gwen writes: “ we are again becoming accustomed to the unruly motorbike riders… impatient drivers… honking of horns… the smell of smoke… UN cars, trucks and helicopters …  

… and …  instead of a policeman directing traffic at the main busy intersection going into the town, Goma’s first traffic lights have been erected – in the form of a ‘robot’ policeman in a tower. He moves 90° towards the oncoming traffic showing a green light or a red light.  We have never seen anything like it before.  Apparently, a female student from the capital, Kinshasa, designed the robot.  Does everybody obey??  One still has to be very diligent when passing through this intersection.  But it looks great!!!   (Post-script…… the robot lost power in a recent storm and is now not working!!)”                                                    


3 new Trainees have begun the basic surgical course this year from  the College of Surgeons of East Central and Southern Africa – one female and two males. One of the new trainees has been a medical student interpreter for our teams in previous years.  Dr Neil began teaching them basic anatomy last week.  The interactive style of teaching has been helpful.  The nearby UN hospital Commanding Officer (a Colonel) is a Professor of Anatomy who is willing to assist with anatomy training.  It has been encouraging to see the improvement in English of the senior Trainees who have been having English lessons since starting the course.


HATS (AusHEAL) Training Centre(HATS = HEAL Africa Training Scheme)

Thanks to the generosity of Gateway Baptist Church in Brisbane through their Christmas appeal, HEAL Africa is now able to commence the construction of a Training Centre which will provide space and facilities for training doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, chaplains and admin staff.  The Training Centre will form the new top floor of an existing building.

Currently there is only one space available for training and it is often required simultaneously by many groups.  The new facility will include a large conference room, smaller training rooms, a skills laboratory, library & reading room and the AusHEAL office.

  The HATS Committee is excited to be able to increase training opportunities for both HEAL Africa staff and in time for other hospitals in Goma and surrounding areas.

  A special meeting of the ‘Building Committee’ (pictured right) (technical, admin, finance, procurement, building and architect) was such an encouragement with so many HEAL Africa staff ready and willing to co-ordinate the commencement of this project.

Practical Training in Surgery

Dr Neil arrived at the Hospital to find neither of the staff general surgeons in town.  Dr Luc remains in Canada undertaking his PhD. Dr Medard was away on one of the hospital’s ‘surgery outreach’ teams. Surgical cases continue to provide opportunities for practical ‘hands-on’ teaching and training for the COSECSA surgical Trainees.

Neil’s Story of the week……

In October last year, I was asked to see a 3-year old boy in the paediatric ward.  I was told that he had a large heart, heart failure and pus in the left side of his chest.  He had apparently been diagnosed with TB. I was informed this was a medical and not a surgical case.  I was simply requested to insert a tube to drain the pus from his chest. The pus was drained. Unfortunately, the child managed to pull out his chest tube 2 weeks later. I inserted another tube.  He was so ill that I thought he was going to die.

Last week, he appeared in the paediatric ward as an outpatient. I was told that he had been leaking food from where his chest tube had been.  I was astounded to discover this – so now this was obviously more of a surgical problem.  The clinical situation did not make sense.  The surgical trainees were given the task of  taking a thorough history of his problems.  The child had not been eating food well and in September last year, before being admitted to HEAL Africa Hospital, his mother took him to the ‘traditional healer’ in his village, who gave him some strong potion to drink.  To cut a long story short, it now appears that much of his problem stems from the fact that he was given some form of corrosive drink, which subsequently has eaten a hole in his oesophagus. The original diagnosis in October last year was incorrect.

 when I explained he needed another chest x-ray, I was told, as I was last year, his mother was so poor she could not afford for him to even have a chest x-ray.  Soon after this I was called away.  About two hours later I was shown a chest x-ray of this young boy that clearly showed he needs more treatment.  When I asked how his mother had afforded this x-ray, I was told that the female nurse who had been on the ward round with us that morning was so upset that his mother could not afford this simple test, she had gone around other staff members and patients and collected money to pay for the chest x-ray!!

 Clearly the young boy will need further investigations and further surgical treatment.  This story underlines several problems….firstly, no-one had taken an accurate history from his mother in the first stage, even though he was in hospital for 3 months; secondly, it underlines the degree of poverty that prevents a child having even a simple chest x-ray.  This is where the AusHEAL Hospital Patient Fund can be truly effective by providing funds for what may be quite complex management of a very poor patient, while at the same time providing an excellent teaching opportunity for HAH staff.  This little boy needs further treatment in the weeks, months and possibly even years ahead, and only time will tell whether he will survive – but at least we can give him a chance, now that we know the full story.

What really makes this the ‘story of the week’ is the attitude of the nurse, as it shows great care and compassion, intervention and ingenuity!”


The most prominent feature at HEAL Africa at present is the massive building program.

A new Fistula Building (foreground of photo right) funded by the Fistula Foundation will enhance the treatment and care of a common health problem in eastern DRC – that of women who have suffered a fistula resulting from poor childbirth or sexual violence.

Also a 3-storey Women’s and Children’s Inpatient Building (pictured right behind the Fistula building) funded by a donor in USA, will increase the capacity for treating a major sector of the community – women and children.

So the addition of the new Training Centre will increase the building activity around HAH – but all to enhance opportunities for improved patient care.

  • Dr Marlene has returned to HAH from her specialisation training in Paediatrics. She is a welcome addition to the staff, especially with the new building program emphasis on women and children.


The Churches of DRCongo (Catholic & Protestant) and even Muslims have called for ‘silent protests’ across the country on Sunday 25 February.  There is still no certainty as to the political situation and no absolute guarantee that elections will occur in December this year.  It is anticipated that all communication will be cut on Sunday.





Lots of activities already including:

Preparation for the Year

  • November 2017 — APRAM: the AusHEAL Planning and Reporting Annual Meeting. Members of the 2017 teams gathered to reflect on the achievements of the year and began to bring together strategic plans and suggestions for 2018 and even longer term
  • December 2017 — the AusHEAL Board met. Dr Neil, Board member, had returned from 4 months overseas, and was able to give a first hand report of AusHEAL in Goma DRCongo
  • January 2018 — the AusHEAL Congo STEERING COMMITTEE met to discuss outcomes of the APRAM meeting and lay down operational plans for the year ahead including the draft budget to be reviewed by the Board
  • January 2018 — the  AusHEAL Board met, reviewing the above, finalising due annual reports and laying out AusHEAL’s future timetable
  • In the midst of these meetings and the preparation required for them, governance & operational personnel continued to meet with various people, both potential medical volunteers and others. We see this as a way of maximising effective medical work, both at HEAL Africa Hospital and in central Africa generally, by seeking opportunities to network. Our aim is to make the most of opportunities that come across our path.


The Year Begins !!

  • January 2018 — Teams ‘Interest Meeting’ held for people who over the past year or two expressed interest in joining an AusHEAL team – 14 new interested people attended (out of which about 11 have committed to be part of a team in 2018 or early 2019)
  • January 2018 — AusHEAL received a donation of A$150,000 from Gateway Baptist Church as a result of their “Hospitals of Hope” Christmas Appeal. The funds were raised to support the building of a permanent training centre at HEAL Africa Hospital (HAH) to house both AusHEAL’s educational involvement of national staff and HEAL Africa’s own outreach educational program to provincial health personnel – i.e. HATS: the HEAL Africa Training Scheme. Construction is due to begin in the second quarter of this year.
    •  We are grateful for the generous donations of Brisbane people as an expression of their christian faith during the Christmas season
  • February 2018 — AusHEAL 2017 AGM with presentations to supporters. Invitations were extended to previous attendees of our Fund Raising Dinners. An excellent opportunity for one-on-one interaction between supporters and volunteers involved in DRCongo
  • February 2018 — Team Training Session #1 was attended by 20 team members, keen to be involved, somewhat nervous about the unknown, but enthusiastic about the opportunities. Team training & preparation is a pivotal & essential aspect of all AusHEAL volunteers’ involvement in our overseas aid every year. Training takes the form of 5 half-day and 1 whole-day sessions. Beneficial medical, nursing and para-health expertise sharing is not a matter of fly-in/fly-out but a relationship of repeated visits, mentoring and encouragement of national professionals in a culturally appropriate manner.

    TEAM TRAINING 2018 begins !

  • February 2018 — Dr NEIL & GWEN WETZIG leave for 2 months in Goma DRCongo at HEAL Africa Hospital with Neil involved in surgery and the training of the COSECSA surgical trainees. Gwen continues to administer the J730N AusHEAL Congo Project, tutor in English and interact with the financial department of HEAL Africa
  • February 2018 — DAVID & HEATHER KELLY leave to return to HEAL Africa for 3 weeks in March. David will continue his hospital administration interaction. As a member of the HEAL Africa Assemblie Generale (HA Board) he will be present for its international annual meeting on 7-9 March. Heather will continue with her English tuition.



Building Programs

  • AusHEAL-HATS Training Centre to begin construction as outlined above
  • Women’s & Children’s In-Patient Department, a 3-storey building currently under construction sponsored by a generous grant from a USA donor
  • Women’s & Children’s Out-Patient Department, another 3-storey building. Construction to begin this year, following the 2016 visit by Princess Caroline of Monaco ,and subsequently funded by the charity her mother, Princess Grace, founded : the Amade Mondial foundation
  • Fistula Care Building, currently under construction for the specific care of women suffering from vaginal fistulae, funded by The Fistula Foundation


  • 2 newly trained and internationally qualified female medical specialists return to HAH this year to begin work.
    • Dr CATHY — Obstetrician & Gynaecologist
    • Dr MARLENE — Paediatrician
  • COSECSA – the specific training & qualification of regional doctors from North Kivu Province in DRCongo in essential and emergency surgery.
    • The HEAL Africa Hospital course & curriculum accredited by COSECSA, the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa, began as a combined initiative of the HAH executive and Dr Neil Wetzig with an ongoing seeding grant from AusHEAL.
  • The three current trainees of the inaugural 3-year course enter their final year this year. they are due to sit their final qualifying COSECSA exam at the end of 2018 before moving out to regional North Kivu.  3 new COSECSA surgical trainees  have been accepted onto the program, commencing their training in 2018. Their photo below with Dr Neil.