SIMS organizes health fair at Batouri Adventist Hospital
Catherine Wilson, a Loma Linda University physical therapy student, demonstrates the proper way to pick up objects.
Students and staff from Loma Linda University teamed up with the medical staff at Batouri Adventist Hospital in the west African country of Cameroon to conduct the first health fair ever held in that part of the country. The project was sponsored by Students for International Mission Service (SIMS).
SIMS, a Loma Linda University service organization, provides cross-cultural learning and spiritual growth through experiences in health care delivery and community development.
Nearly 30 students, staff, and friends of Loma Linda participated in the Christmas vacation project, organized by Martine Polycarpe, MPH, director, Students for International Mission Service.
“We selected Batouri Adventist Hospital as the site for our health fair because of its service and health care opportunities for our students,” Ms. Polycarpe says.
Batouri Adventist Hospital, a 32-bed health institution headed by Andre Nda’a, MD, medical director, was founded in 1991 in an old house and associated primary school building. Under Dr. Nda’a’s leadership, this medical facility is now prospering, attracting patients from around the entire area and even across the border from the Central African Republic.
“Our students started planning for this trip months in advance,” Ms. Polycarpe says, “by raising funds to provide the fair participants with insecticide-treated
Local residents line up at Batouri Adventist Hospital waiting for the two-day health fair to open. Approximately 1,000 individuals attended the fair.
A $10,000 goal was set by SIMS—an amount that would translate into 2,000 bed nets at a cost of $5 each. The monetary goal was surpassed—primarily through the efforts of Loma Linda students attending the college-age Sabbath school sponsored by the Loma Linda University Church of Seventh-day Adventists.
In addition, Ms. Polycarpe and others presented the project to service and church groups throughout the area.
“Without this community effort, our goal would not have been obtained,” Ms. Polycarpe states.
The SIMS group left Loma Linda on December 16, arriving in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, on the evening of December 17 following a plane change in Paris.
Following an overnight stay in a local hotel, the group traveled 11 hours by bus over 275 miles of unpaved roads to Batouri Adventist Hospital, the site of the health fair.
On Monday morning, December 19, the SIMS group walked from the hotel to Batouri Adventist Hospital, a distance of a little over a mile, to set up for the health fair that was to begin the following morning.
Upon arrival at the hospital, the Loma Linda group found that the local Batouri Seventh-day Adventist Church Pathfinder club, working under the direction of the Batouri Adventist Hospital staff, had constructed a large health fair complex with dividers and sun shades made out of palm leaves on the hospital’s football field.
“What they prepared for us was absolutely amazing,” Ms. Polycarpe notes. “The Pathfinders and hospital staff had made individual ‘rooms’ that would seat approximately 30 attendees each. It was perfect for our purposes.”
In order to attend the health fair, local community residents obtained a photo “passport” at the hospital entrance. Attendees needed to receive a “visa” stamp at each of the health stations. A fully completed passport entitled the holder to receive a treated mosquito bed net.
“Malaria is one of the major health problems in the area,” Ms. Polycarpe says. “If each household had proper mosquito protection, the incidence of malaria could be greatly reduced.”
After receiving their passports, complete with Polaroid photograph, the visitors proceeded to the health fair site—about a half mile from the hospital.
“We had approximately 1,000 community residents attend the two-day fair,” Ms. Polycarpe says. While at the fair, the visitors attended each exhibit, where they listened to a 20-minute talk and watched informative demonstrations on selected health topics.
Health stations included malaria prevention, nutrition, dental health, physical therapy, basic hygiene, spiritual care, and respiratory infections.
In addition, School of Dentistry dental and dental hygiene students, supervised by Periza Zaninovic, DDS, assistant clinical professor, dental education services, School of Dentistry, and Perry D. Burtch, DDS, a 1989 School of Dentistry graduate, and director of the Seventh-day Adventist dental clinic in Yaounde, treated a number of dental patients at an improvised dental clinic based in the operating room of the hospital.
“This was the first time that many of the local residents had ever been to a dentist,” Dr. Zaninovic says. “The nearest dental care is in the capital city of Yaounde—a day’s trip by bus or other ground transportation.”
“This trip really made a difference in my life,” says Dane McClurg, a School of Dentistry student. “I think that our presence really helped the Adventist hospital because it felt like we really cared and wanted to help the people.”
Dental student Tyler Johnson echoes Mr. McClurg’s sentiments: “As a member of the dental team I found it rewarding to work in a clinic that provided hands-on treatment of diseased teeth.
“But I would have to say that the most rewarding part of the trip was the dental booth at the health fair.
“At the fair, we taught the people the importance of brushing and flossing. The people were absolutely enthralled by our demonstrations on dental health.”
“I would have never envisioned anything like Batouri,” says Annie Larsen, a physical therapist at Loma Linda University Medical Center, “with red dusty roads and the children with amazing, heartfelt smiles. It was an experience of a lifetime.”
By Richard W. Weismeyer