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Khombe Medard, a nursing student, attends patient Ngunda Nestor at a Mennonite hospital in Mukedi, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Melissa Engle

Khombe Medard, a nursing student, attends patient Ngunda Nestor at a Mennonite hospital in Mukedi, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Melissa Engle

MCC seeks funds for Congolese hospitals

Tim Shenk
July 2, 2009

AKRON, Pa. — Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is appealing for financial contributions to help provide medications and other supplies to Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren hospitals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Congo's Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren denominations operate networks of hospitals and health centers that span areas of southwestern Congo with hundreds of thousands of people. Most of the hospitals were constructed with the support of North American missionaries in the mid-20th century.

Since that time, missionaries have largely withdrawn from the country, and Congo's economy has suffered a severe decline in the midst of political turmoil and several devastating wars. Nationwide health statistics tell a grim story — for example, nearly one in six Congolese children dies before age 5, often from preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria and diarrhea.

MCC is seeking to raise a total of $630,000 U.S., or roughly $690,000 Cdn., to provide medications and other supplies to Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren hospitals in southwestern Congo. The hospitals sell the medications to patients at a discount and use the proceeds to buy more medications and pay for other needs, such as nurses' salaries, which can be less than $10 per month.

The five-year project is called "Menno-Santé," which means "Menno health" in French, and it began in 2008.

As of June 2009, two hospitals in the small towns of Mukedi and Kajiji have each received four deliveries of medications and supplies. These items, which were ordered by the hospital doctors, include antibiotics, malaria medicine, pregnancy tests, scalpels and chemicals for developing X-rays. Another two hospitals in Nyanga and Kanzombi are expected to begin placing orders in October.

Medical coordinators from Congo's Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches are administering the project in consultation with two MCC workers, John Clarke and Anicka Fast, who are a married couple from Montreal.

Clarke and Fast have observed how hospital staff members are coping with difficult circumstances and how the Menno-Santé project is beginning to make a difference.

In Nyanga, hospital workers meet for a chapel service every morning and take up a collection for patients who cannot afford to pay their own hospital bills. In Kajiji, the proceeds from Menno-Santé have allowed the hospital staff to receive a modest pay increase, keeping nurses from emigrating to neighboring Angola to look for work.

Hospital staff members in Mukedi and elsewhere hope that the Menno-Santé project will allow them to provide care to a greater number of patients who currently cannot afford treatment.

"The number of (hospital) beds actually filled at a certain time hovers around 12 to 20 percent," Fast says. "If people could afford it, they would all be full."

The following organizations provided counsel in the planning of Menno-Santé: Mennonite Mission Health Association, IMA World Health and Congolese Mennonite Development Association. Mennonite Mission Health Association and the French Mennonite organization Caisse de Secours have also provided significant financial support.

More information on Menno-Santé is available online at mcc.org/congo/mennosante. Donations may be made through this website or to any MCC office.