The Kinshasa General Hospital, more commonly known by its initials HGK, is far from being a bush dispensary. With its 2,000 beds and its 2,250 employees (doctors, nurses and administrative personnel), it is one of Africa's most impressive medical facilities. It offers a full range of services and is the undisputed referral centre for the Congolese capital. Its patients - the sick, accident victims and war casualties, both civilian and military - have one thing in common: their suffering, which the staff do their best to alleviate with the means available. But those means are often woefully inadequate.
For several years now the ICRC has been providing support for the hospital, which in 1997 even admitted victims of the fighting between rival militias that devastated Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo on the other side of the river. The wounded were transferred to the HGK and treated by Congolese surgeons using medicines and medical supplies provided by the ICRC.
Today it is wounded soldiers of the Democratic Republic of the Congo who are occupying the beds in the surgical unit. "We have 80 patients a month on average", says Léandre, the nurse in charge of the unit. He took us into a ward and showed us a few young patients, some in bed, some standing. "Most of them have arm or leg wounds, none of them very serious", he explained. The youths looked curiously at the group of foreigners led by DrMichel Thomas, the doctor at the ICRC delegation in Kinshasa, wondering what this unexpected visit might mean.
Outside the ward, the heat and pungent odours seemed even more stifling.
A short distance away from the other buildings is the cholera ward recently refurbished by the ICRC. This is a sturdy, spacious structure with enough room for 200 beds. It stands empty, waiting for furniture and equipment. A bed base made of wooden slats with a hole in the centre serves as a reminder of the ravages caused by this disease, which reappears every rainy season. Outside in the grassy yard stands a line of latrines and showers. With no one using them, they are not yet clogged and overflowing.
The HGK is like a vast ship that the crew are trying to keep afloat despite daily difficulties and lack of resources. LÚandre comes to work every day. "I come in even on Sundays, because you never know when casualties will arrive", he said with a big smile, as if his commitment were the most natural thing in the world.
Further information: ICRC Kinshasa, tel. ++234 12 34 191