Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A White Doctor in Africa

by

The perennial debate in the U.S. over health care costs vs. quality of care, and the increasing commercialism of many of my medical colleagues remind me of a meeting I had during one of my missions in Africa.

I was visiting Río Muni, the continental half of Equatorial Guinea, with some medical colleagues. We were assessing the health situation in the country and had arrived at Niefang, a small, sparsely populated, neglected town in the interior.

In the town hospital I met a young Spanish physician. Calm and self-assured, he radiated warmth.

He was treating a difficult case, an older man whose body was covered by large, irregularly shaped, infected ulcers. The infections, with the heat and lack of hygiene, reeked. Dr. Ramón Vila described the health status of the other patients in the ward, and then he led us on a tour of the rest of the hospital.

He took us to the delivery room. Ill at ease, he told us that they had to share it with the first-aid room, which increased the possibilities for the spread of infections. The hospital’s scarce financial resources, he explained, made this unavoidable.

We continued our visit. Everywhere we went I received the same impression: crowded facilities, poverty, lack of essential items, run-down services. Dr. Vila did not seem to be affected by these difficulties. I, however, felt discouraged.

Soon afterwards he took us to his house, located near the hospital. The house was small but well kept. Most of the time, it lacked running water and electricity. I asked Dr. Vila about his background. He had graduated from university in Barcelona, he said, where he married a fellow student. Since they were both interested in working in developing countries, they went to Nicaragua.

“We chose Nicaragua following a curious circumstance,” he said. “I was studying a rather unusual case, one of only 211 recorded in the medical literature. Suddenly, I was struck by the irrationality of my study. What was its purpose, I thought, when all over the world millions of human beings are hungry and live in total misery?

“So we decided to go to Nicaragua, where I learned to look at death in a new way. I found the Nicaraguans to be a truly remarkable and stoic people, with a profound sense of friendship and love. When one of them was killed during the war, they quietly buried the dead and continued their struggle for life.”

After a while in Nicaragua, Dr. Vila and his wife decided to go to Africa and, through a Spanish government organization, they went to the rural hospital where we met. They soon developed a special relationship with the people in the area. When we were visiting the hospital, we watched his wife, Mercedes, teaching a nutrition class to a group of community health workers.
We had some cold drinks — a rare treat in the oppressive heat and humidity — and continued our chat. We discussed the case of the patient with the ulcers. We agreed on the usefulness of finding and treating diseases frequent in that area. For somebody from the industrialized world, they could only be found in medical textbooks.

I assumed that after having a good professional experience, Dr. Vilas would return to Barcelona. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and, I thought, he would develop a brilliant career in his native city. I asked him about his plans for the future.

“I want to remain here,” he said calmly. “You see, there are times when one does things not because of the comfort they bring but for a different reason, a moral call if you wish. And that is the challenge that I found here.

“In Barcelona I would be irritated by a temporary lack of electricity or by an unchanging traffic light. Here I fight every day against death, and many times I lose the battle. But here I feel fulfilled. I know that in this place, despite its primitive conditions, my work makes a difference. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Andrew Sullivan
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Richard W. Behan
Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]