International Medical Corps Physician Relies on his Colleagues in Rural Darfur for Emergency Surgery

Um Dukhun is a border town in Western Darfur, adjacent to Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR). Of the estimated population of 126,000 residing in and around Um Dukhun, more than 95,000 are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. These displaced populations, as well as nearly 31,500 local community members, now have access to medical care through a new health facility built by International Medical Corps.

“Before the Um Dukhun health facility was built, the nearest referral hospital was a five-hour drive away – that is if travel was even possible,” says Dr. Solomon Kebede Goshu, International Medical Corps country director in Darfur. “During the rainy season, which runs May to October, the roads are completely impassable, making travel to a far-off facility out of the question.”

The Um Dukhun health facility has a laboratory, delivery room, operating room, reproductive health clinic, pharmacy, out-patient facility, and in-patient facility with separate wards for men, women, children, and maternity. Staffed by 28 clinical personnel and 31 community-based health workers, the health facility provides care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The significance of this health facility can already be seen in the number – and complexity – of cases it has seen since International Medical Corps started the Um Dukhun program in May 2007.

In just the first three months of this year, 129 women were admitted to Um Dukhun health facility for emergency obstetric care, ten of which had caesarean sections. If it were not for this health facility, emergency obstetric care would not be available at all, making the women – and their babies – very vulnerable because of the variety of complications that can arise during and after delivery.

Maternal mortality claims the lives of 514,000 mothers every year, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). In Sudan specifically, the UNFPA 2006 annual report estimates that there are more than 500 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. This is because approximately 15 percent of all pregnancies result in potentially fatal complications, like haemorrhage, obstructed labor, infection, and hypertension. Indirect causes such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and anaemia can also contribute to maternal deaths. Nearly all these lives could be saved if good-quality obstetric care was available to them.

Um Dukhun health facility also makes other surgical procedures available, even elective procedures like abdominal hernia repair. From January to March, the surgical team at the hospital did 33 major operations, including thyroid surgery, appendectomy, and 13 surgical emergencies, and 344 minor operations.

In addition to high-quality medical care, Um Dukhun health facility also serves as a training space for new health care workers. Health staff at Um Dukhun health facility now has access to on-the-job training for skills like primary anesthesia and operating theater nursing. Through this training, the staff will be equipped with the basic knowledge and skills required to safely handle and manage common surgical and obstetric emergencies.

“This focus on training is an integral part of International Medical Corps’ mission – provide long-term health solutions by passing on the skills to the local community,” says Dr. Solomon.

These new skills have already saved lives of the general population and just last week, came to the rescue of an International Medical Corps’ doctor who was feeling a sharp pain in his abdomen. He was suffering from appendicitis in which the appendix becomes severely inflamed. If left alone, an inflamed appendix can burst and cause a potentially fatal infection. When an appendix becomes inflamed, it is a surgical emergency and must be removed promptly.

The doctor consented to be operated on at the facility by the local surgical team. The operation was a success – the team successfully removed the appendix. He is now recovering swiftly, thanks to the precision and care of the International Medical Corps-trained team.

“This level of trust and confidence by a medical doctor to consent to major surgery in a rural health facility is an important indicator of the quality of services that the International Medical Corps team provides,” says Dr. Solomon. Quality services that International Medical Corps hopes will continue to be available long after it is gone.

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