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40 Years of Medical Care
In the centre of Africa sits Nyankunde, a small village near the eastern border of the DRC (formerly Zaire). In 1966, CME was set up in Nyankunde by five local churches. For nearly 40 years, CME served an immediate population of 150,000 and supported medical services (a medical training school, a pharmacy, and specialist hospital treatment) in an area the size of France, with an estimated population of 8 million! In 2002 CME employed 350 staff, had 250 hospital beds, saw 2000 outpatients a month, performed 250 operations a month, distributed medicines to numerous outlying dispensaries and, further still, ran a nursing school with 120 students and a university with 100 students.
Conflict and Destruction
In 1996, war started in the north east of the country and since that time much fighting and bloodshed has taken place. Over 10 African countries have been involved and old tribal conflicts have been inflamed. Most estimates put the number of deaths resulting directly and indirectly from the war in excess of 4.5 million. 2.5 million people were displaced. Since 2003, United Nations troops have been deployed in various towns to try to bring peace and stability.
On September 5th 2002, CME, which for the most part had been untouched directly by the wars, was attacked. Within half an hour, 1000 people were murdered including patients, hospital staff and villagers. After days being held hostage at Nyankunde, the remaining patients and staff fled on foot. Most travelled south, walking for two weeks through the rain forest with nothing but the clothes that they were wearing. Mercifully, no more died and 4 babies were born en route! Nyankunde became a ´ghost town´ and the medical centre was looted and largely destroyed.
The photos on the right, taken during our visit to DRC in 2004 - when Friends of CME Trust was being established as a charity - show Nyankunde in ruin. (Please hover over the photo to see its descriptive caption.)
Most of the people eventually settled in a town called Beni, situated 150 km south of Nyankunde. Since that time, they have begun to rebuild what remains of the medical centre in a collection of rented buildings such as a former school, a warehouse, and a family home.
Other CME staff settled eventually in Bunia to the east where a small hospital has been established. Eventually, people returned to Nyankunde too and CME has restarted its operations. At its three sites, CME now provides over 200 beds and employs over 200 staff including 14 doctors. In the first half of 2009 approximately 4,500 patients were admitted to the three hospitals, 2,000 operations were performed and 10,500 outpatient consultations took place. The nursing school functions in Beni and Nyankunde with about 100 students enrolled. The facilities are basic and student accommodation is poor. In addition, nearly 300 university level students were enrolled in 2009.
A More Certain Future?
With increasing stability, CME is starting the construction of its own buildings on a recently purchased site at Sosé, near Beni. The charity provides funds to enable CME to relocate from its rented buildings to these new purpose built facilities.
Despite some hope returning to DRC, the international rescue commitee has estimated that 1,200 people die daily as a result of what Unicef calls ‘the world’s deadliest humanitarian crisis since World War 2.’ For the moment, therefore, the CME leadership has decided to support medical work at each of the three locations.