Despite the lack of basic medical equipment and drugs in his native Senegal, neurosurgeon Seydou Badiane treats everyone he can, says Rita de Brún
NICK WEBER says “it takes very little effort and money to save lives.” Weber is the founder and president of American Friends for Le Korsa (AFLK), a non-profit that works with Senegalese doctors, teachers, and students.
Weber, a philanthropist, writer, and art historian, was in West Cork’s Glandore when he decided to tell Ireland about Professor Seydou Badiane, a giant of a man who performs neurological surgery in West Africa, under conditions so ferocious they’d make the most seasoned of stoics flinch.
The quiet-spoken professor saves lives in the direst of circumstances. Yet medical-supply shortages can put patients at risk of contracting fatal infections.
This is especially a risk when shunts to drain brain-fluid during surgery are used up to a dozen times.
Because hospital conditions at home are far from ideal, many young Senegalese doctors take jobs abroad, after their training. Professor Badiane would have trained many of them, but wishes them well, and then continues to endure those conditions and give it his all.
He could balk and refuse to operate, because of inadequate equipment. But when faced with children who need emergency, life-saving surgery, he does what he can.
“Having to re-use shunts meant that roughly ten out of every thirty patients operated on were tragically lost,” says Weber. “But, these days, thanks to the fundraising endeavours of Le Korsa, the hospital in the capital, Dakar, receives regular supplies of shunts and re-using them is a thing of the past.”
But while that is one problem solved, others are pressing. Ebola showed its terrifying face in Senegal two years ago, and although the country was declared free of the virus just two months later, by the World Health Organisation, no patient or medic at a hospital wants to be exposed to the risk of infection and cross-infection of viral and bacterial strains of any type, especially those that might be prevented by a simple, rubber barrier.
Yet, that’s precisely what’s happening in Dakar, because there aren’t enough surgical gloves.
It’s hard for the hungry to ward off infection, and in Senegal malnutrition is epidemic. “Most eat food they produce themselves, but, as a country, we don’t produce enough to eat,” says Professor Badiane. “In some regions, there are periods each year during which the gathered crops are running out and it’s difficult to find food. That might mean eight weeks of hunger for our people.”
While adults are vulnerable to illness, children are even more so. Yet the hospitals in Senegal are not properly equipped to look after the children: “The equipment we have is wholly inadequate,” says Professor Badiane. “In the intensive care unit, there are no respiratory machines, and no speciality beds for kids. It’s the same in the operating room. There’s a shortage of drapes, and what limited instruments we have are designed for use on adult patients.”
However tough conditions might be for the seven million people who live in Dakar, no medical specialists practice elsewhere in Senegal, so it’s much harder for the similar number who live outside of the capital.
“When they need a doctor, those living in rural areas will be lucky to see a nurse,” says the professor. “Now, that nurse will be doing a doctor’s work, but because the treatment is being carried out in basic conditions, often in villages, the only remedies available may be herbs, vegetables, and other plants.
“While these can be used to successfully treat diarrhoea and other such ailments, the seriously ill need hospital care.
“Because that’s so often not available, many wear amulets, in the hope that they will offer protection against disease and harm. But the hard truth is that Senegalese people are dying for lack of adequate medical treatment.”
Besides helping hospital doctors, Weber and his team at Le Korsa also provide an alternative future for Senegalese girls who might otherwise be forced into marriage at the age of 12.
“It’s tough seeing 16-year-old girls married with three or four kids,” he says. “So we set up an educational facility in Senegal, where young girls can board, while receiving an education that will help them have the future they dream of.”
They also raise funds to pay for the antibiotics needed to save the lives of the seriously ill babies that are so often abandoned, by desperate parents, on the doorsteps of Senegalese hospitals.
For all the difficulties, Weber says the Senegalese are, by nature, a cheerful people. “They express their needs, for sure, but they don’t complain,” says Weber. “One of our aims — and this is important, because of the migrant crisis — is to make life in Senegal so appealing for its people that they will want to stay and not leave.”
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