Forging New Connections in Bissau

Zachary Orman, Medical Team Member HBA trip to Guinea Bissau, March 2012

Zach is a second year medical student at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine

National Hospital Simao Mendes

The capital city of Bissau is no metropolis. As I drift through the late morning haze past colonial ruins and embassies surrounded in barbed wire I am searching for something resembling a hospital. I step off the bus with my colleagues and we find the sea-foam-green hospital complex amidst the street vendors and crumbling cinder-block structures. Why are we here?

The five of us, three medical students, an EMT, and an educator, have traveled from Catel in order to find some answers. Over the past two weeks I have seen the wonderful things that the small clinic there is doing for local residents. It shows so much promise as an asset for community health, but now it’s apparent that the clinic can grow no more on its own. Becoming recognized as an official government clinic will integrate the work that missionary health care workers do with existing infrastructure and help it become an independent and sustainable entity.

Zach in front of National Hospital Simao Mendes

“Buenas dias, amigos. Bienvenidos!”  Our local physician guide addressed us in Spanish, the language of his Cuban medical training, as he greeted us in front of the National Hospital Simao Mendes. I was grateful to communicate in a language more familiar to me than the Portuguese Kiriol I had been struggling to learn in Catel. He smiled and led us inside.

Then began our whirlwind tour of the Guiniensis health system. We visited the ministry of public health, the medical school, an NGO-powered Noma Infection relief program and met with the secretary of health himself. It was a day full of  “aha!” moments and subtle awakenings. We came with a to-do list a page long and by the end of the day, we had added more new mysteries to it than we had solved.

Although we didn’t make any tangible progress that day, our visit began a conversation between two future allies. We learned much about the system and processes in place in Guinea Bissau, while the doctors and administrators that we spoke with also learned from us that there is a clinic in a remote corner of their country that wants to help Guiniensis people. This is how business is done in a place like Guinea Bissau. The process has begun, and I returned home with the gratifying knowledge that our little clinic in Catel was growing up.

Teaching CHE Health