Leaning against the wall in a corridor at the University Hospital Centre in Abeche, a town around 900 km east of the Chadian capital N’Djamena, Dr Sassil Dare takes a few minutes to catch his breath. It is 3pm and he has already completed three surgeries. Another patient is waiting, and his colleagues are preparing the operating theatre. “We perform an average of six operations and treat around 15 patients a day,” he explains.
That is almost 100 operations within a month since he and two colleagues arrived in June at the hospital near the border with Sudan, where almost 400 000 people fleeing the fighting have taken refuge.
Since the onset of the conflict, Chad’s Ouaddaï province has received more than 80% of the 378 428 Sudanese refugees registered, many of whom were injured by firearms or shrapnel as they fled. As of 18 August more than 2700 injuries had been recorded by Chad’s Ministry of Public Health and Prevention. The most critical of these are transferred to the hospital in Abeche, 200 km from the Sudanese border, where Dr Dare, a vascular surgeon, is based.
A surgeon for almost a decade, and deputy head of the surgical emergency department at the Sylvanus Olympio University Hospital in Lomé, Togo, Dr Daré is one of three members of an emergency medical team World Health Organisation (WHO) helped to train, mobilize and deploy to Chad to meet the health needs of the refugees and the local population as the humanitarian crisis exerts pressure on Chad’s already fragile health system.
“We look after returnee and refugee patients, mainly war-wounded and often with multiple injuries, but also the local population. We transfer knowledge and skills to our Chadian medical colleagues,” the Togolese surgeon explains.
Before the arrival of the WHO emergency medical team, the Abeche University Hospital had only one surgical team, which was soon overwhelmed by the influx of people requiring care.
“We had to put patients in the wards of other departments because there were so many of them,” recalls Dr Ali Soumaine About, head of surgery at Abeche University Hospital. “Since the arrival of the WHO emergency team, we have been able to triple the number of surgeries, up to 10 a day if you add scheduled operations and emergencies.”
Although this is the first time Dr Dare has been deployed to an emergency field setting, he comes with experience. “I work in emergency. I’ve seen some difficult situations before coming here,” he says.
“I was impatient to put our skills at the service of the Sudanese refugees and the Chadians. It is an honour for us, as Africans, to be able to help our African brothers,” he adds, expressing gratitude for the trust that WHO has placed in him.
To date, WHO has ensured the supply of more than 40 tons of medical equipment and medicines, including care kits for the injured, and has helped operationalize two operating theatres at the Abeche University Hospital. The Organization has also set up two 18-bed tents at the hospital to improve conditions for patients.
Sitting on a bed, his leg bandaged but still smiling, 50-year-old Ahmed Hassan is one of the patients treated by Dr Daré and his colleagues. Shot while trying to reach Chad with his family, he says he owes his survival to fellow refugees who helped him cross the border under fire, and to the health workers who quickly rushed him to the hospital in Abeche by ambulance.
“The doctors are doing a fantastic job. I’m grateful to them, and so are my brothers,” Hassan says, referring to all the others who, like him, have successfully undergone operations. “I say a sincere thank you to the surgeons and to all the organizations that are taking care of us, and to the people of Chad who are treating us well. I’m happy to be healthy again.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO) – Chad.