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Church hospital fights AIDS in Mozambique with limited resources


Church hospital fights AIDS in Mozambique with limited resources


Nov. 19, 2004 


By Kathy L. Gilbert*

CHICUQUE, Mozambique (UMNS) — Sometimes it is the simple things — such as sutures in a suitcase dropped off by a United Methodist Volunteer in Mission team — that help Chicuque Rural Hospital perform the miracles that happen there every day.

“The VIMs have been very resourceful for us, they bring suitcases with supplies,” says Jeremias Franca, hospital administrator. “Sometimes we run out of supplies like sutures, and we dig into a bag dropped off by a VIM team and we find what we need. These are the things that enable Chicuque Rural Hospital to be the miracle that it is.”

Four doctors serve more than 500,000 people in this hospital, located in a rural fishing village on the coast of the Indian Ocean. People suffering from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are just some of the problems that flood through the front doors of this hospital every day.

Franca, a tall, soft-spoken man, is the only professionally trained hospital administrator in Mozambique. A native of Mozambique, he earned his master’s degree in hospital administration from Southwest State University in San Marcos, Texas. As he talks, his dedication and love for Chicuque are evident.

Franca says the AIDS problem is growing, not diminishing, in Mozambique.

“We have 80 patients with full-blown AIDS, but we can only admit and treat seven,” he says. Limited drugs and space are the main constraints to helping more people.

Only patients who have gone through an extensive preparation program are admitted into the hospital. If government funds come through next year, 20 new patients will be able to enter the program every month.

“We can only admit 20, but look how many are waiting,” Franca says.

The rate of the spread of AIDS in Inhambane Providence, where the hospital is located, is lower than the rest of country, he says. “But we know that does not reflect the reality. There is more going on in the rural areas that we do not know about.”

Fighting the spread

In the urban areas of Mozambique, many organizations are advocating the use of and distributing condoms.

“If you look at the statistics, you would be tempted to say the more condoms are used, the more people are infected,” he says.

He speculates one of the reasons for the increase in AIDS can be linked to the increase in pornography in the country through reading materials, videos and the Internet.

“It would not be surprising to go into an Internet café and find kids watching porn; what they do after that nobody knows. Unfortunately, our people are not yet armed with enough good information to know that this is not appropriate.”

The hospital has helped form a group of patients living with AIDS who go out into the community and teach others about the disease.

“When you have people who are suffering with the problem talking to others, that is a very powerful tool,” Franca says. Partnerships with groups such as this one stand a better chance of getting the community to understand that a catastrophe is taking place, he says.

The group advocates fidelity or abstinence, depending on the age of the people it is addressing. If people can’t comply, the group advocates protection, he says. The group is also trying to help overcome the stigma associated with the disease by showing that patients are productive people who can meet and work with others without spreading AIDS.

Another program the hospital is involved with works to stop the mother-to-child transmission of AIDS.

“We want to mobilize pregnant women to come in for testing,” Franca says. “But the dilemma then is once the baby is born, what happens next?”

Once the baby is born, the chances are high that it will get AIDS from the mother’s breast milk. Mothers are not encouraged to use baby formula because “we know they will not use it.”

“Now you have two people needing AIDS treatment; these are the things we are dealing with. Only prayer can answer these questions.”

In addition to the hospital, a satellite clinic is available for AIDS patients in Teles. The small clinic is facing the frontlines of the AIDS crisis with little more than what one would find in the average medicine cabinet in the United States.

Nurse Raquel Tinosse Savanguane treats an overflow crowd of women and children at her two-room clinic. Two cots in a sparse examining room represent the bulk of what she can provide. Savanguane dreams of renovating a third room to accommodate more cots. She tries to educate her patients about AIDS prevention. In a country where obtaining fresh water is often difficult or impossible, Savanguane is battling a daunting enemy.

Traveling long distances

Chicuque hospital serves five districts and is the only hospital in the area with specialists such as general surgeons, internists and dentists. All the district hospitals and clinics transfer patients to Chicuque, and many come from more than 70 miles away. For many people, this means walking or traveling in the back of a wagon for several hours or days, Franca says.

He points to the transportation problem as one of the reasons for the high maternal mortality rate in the country. He says women often wait a long time before deciding they need medical help, and then they often must travel great distances to get the help they need.

“By the time they get here, there is no chance of saving them,” he says.

“It is just a shame when you talk about helping 500,000 people and you have four physicians,” he says. “But that is our reality.”

In addition to the shortage of doctors, the hospital is without X-ray machines or lab equipment. The kitchen, serving more than 200 people a day, is an open-air operation with women cooking food in black pots boiling on top of firewood.

Two of the four doctors at the hospital are United Methodist missionaries from Germany. Chicuque hospital is one of the United Methodist Church’s special Advance projects, and money received through the Advance for Christ and His Church enables the hospital to survive, Franca says.

Chicuque Rural Hospital is a joint project of the United Methodist Church and the Mozambican government. The United Methodist Church provides professional personnel through the Board of Global Ministries; short-term volunteers through the VIM program; funds for running the hospital through the Advance; physical items, such as medical equipment and supplies through overseas donations; and prayer support that undergirds the ministry of the hospital.

The government of Mozambique provides salaries for Mozambican nationals (professional and non-professional staff); operating budget items, such as food and fuel (good for about five months of the year); and distribution of international aid items, such as medicines, medical equipment and supplies according to the national plan.

“What I would like people in the United States to know about Chicuque hospital is that, first, we are very thankful for this hospital because it is a mission hospital,” Franca says. “And second, their prayers and their Advance Special giving is making miracles in Mozambique through this hospital.”

Contributions to Chicuque Rural Hospital may be sent through a local United Methodist church, annual conference or by mailing a check to: Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Write your check out to “Advance GCFA.” Be sure to include Chicuque: Hospital Revitalization, Advance #09734A on the check memo line. Call 1-888-252-6174 to give by credit card. For more information visit the Advance Web site


*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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