AusHeal Blog

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.