AusHeal Blog

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.