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"Covid-19: a huge challenge to our healthcare system"

Dr. Vicky Masika Sasapu in front of the clinic of the CBCA church in Goma (DR Congo), photo: CBCA.

Dr. Taufik Nugroho (right), director of the "Mardi Rahayu Sindurejo" clinic of the GKJW church in Java (Indonesia), Photo: GKJW.

Since 2001, around 300 students have graduated with a UEM scholarship. In the meantime, many of them are taking on important tasks in church and society. They work in a wide variety of positions, including in the health sector. A large part of the UEM funds "United against Covid-19" is invested in the area of "Support for medical facilities". Reason enough for the head of the UEM scholarship programme, Dr Andar Parlindugan, to ask in times of the corona crisis what the doctors and former scholarship holders of UEM are currently doing in hospitals in Asia and Africa and how the situation has developed.

The work in the health care facilities of UEM members in Africa & Asia

Most UEM member churches have their own health care facilities. From small hospital treatment stations in the countryside to large, urban hospitals. Dr Taufik Nugroho is medical director of the "Mardi Rahayu Sindurejo" clinic in Kediri, west of Malang, Indonesia. This clinic belongs to the Christian Church in East Java (GKJW). "The Covid 19 pandemic poses a huge challenge to our health care system."  He goes on to describe what has changed for him above all in dealing with patients: "The most striking difference is the 'distance' to the patient. Not only the necessary physical distance takes place, but perhaps also a distance of trust... The doctor-patient relationship is always based on mutual trust, and this is being put to the test in this pandemic. Patients often feel intimidated by a stricter health protocol and are also afraid of the stigma if they are suspected of being infected with the coronavirus. There is therefore a general concern among the medical team that patients may not be honest about their symptoms or history of risk exposure to Covid-19".

How UEM supports their member churches

His colleague Dr Kahindo Darleine Furaha has had the same experience at the Nyakahanga Hospital of the Karagwe Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Tanzania (ELCT-KAD). "Social distancing is a difficulty in dealing with patients and their families." Dr Furaha is originally from the Baptist Church in Central Africa (CBCA), in the Eastern Congo. She has been active in UEM's South-South personnel exchange programme in Tanzania since 2014 and would actually have wanted to return home in March 2020 if it weren't for Corona. The UEM immediately agreed to an extension of her employment contract, initially for six months. "In the midst of difficult times, it is a pleasure to receive good news. The KAD accepts this action with great appreciation. It comes on time and responsibly. The UEM has helped us a lot with this decision. We are glad that Dr Furaha is with us," said Bishop Dr. Benson Bagonza, head of the diocese. Nyakahanga Hospital is a district hospital for the Karagwe, Kyerwa and Ngara regions, with a catchment area of about 700,000 people. In anticipation of increasing numbers of patients with Covid-19 disease, the following measures were implemented at the hospital: Already at the entrance to the hospital the tightened hygiene controls begin. All visitors must thoroughly disinfect their hands and the hospital staff immediately take their temperature. In cooperation with the diocese, information campaigns were also organised, partly via radio. 'Wash your hands with soap, wear masks and do not shake hands in greeting.' - These are the key messages.

Two state borders further to the west, Dr Vicky Masika Sasapu in Goma reports, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo similar things. "We are prepared for increasing numbers of cases. The challenge is that we will lack the medical equipment in case of emergency. Respirators are available, but we have less than a handful at CBCA's church hospitals." In general, there are also too few testing facilities available, so it remains unclear how many people are actually infected with Covid-19 in the countries of UEM members.

The challenges of the doctors

How do the doctors manage to stay motivated despite all the challenges? In a working day that is often enough difficult and sad. For many of the church hospitals mainly address their services to low-income people; the doctors are aware of many fates. Dr Nugroho from Java answers: "The ultimate challenge for us is to continue to offer the best service to the patients, to touch the heart without physical touching and to smile, even if masks are placed in between. We remain confident and always believe that God has a good plan for us. He is certainly helping at the right time so that we are able to provide the best service to others, especially in the public health sector.

Dr Parlindugan expressed his deep respect for the achievements, the tireless efforts of all medical staff in the facilities of the UEM members. "May God protect you and give you special strength in the fight against this life-threatening virus."

This video provides a detailed insight into the measures taken by CBCA's Bethesda Hospital in Goma (East Congo).

UEM Corona Task Force



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