· Vatican City ·

The Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret provide medical care to nearly 95,000 people

Kindness and compassion

 Kindness and compassion  ING-018
03 May 2024

The health facility, opened eight years ago by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret, in the heart of the African country, provides healthcare to a population exhausted by malaria, malnutrition and tuberculosis. The director, Sister Christine Richard: “Our thanks go to benefactors and their support”.

“True poverty in this country is often the parents’ ignorance”. It’s what nurses and doctors whisper as they cross the courtyard overlooked by wards and departments. The earth’s colours predominate in this low structure with its many outdoor corridors divided by blooming gardens. The hospital staff’s tenderness towards the child patients is almost disarming, and their rebukes of fathers and mothers are not accusations but rather, a painful observation: that in Cameroon today, people continue to die because they turn to the witchdoctor rather than hospitals. In the hospital in Ngaoundal, in the Adamawa province in Cameroon’s central region, one of the main commitments is precisely that of saving lives by tearing them from the hands of healers.

Malaria, tuberculosis and malnutrition

Opened in 2016 by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret, the hospital is a point of reference for nearly 95,000 people, and it does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity or religion. It focuses primarily on fighting tuberculosis, which is very common here. “The most widespread and frequent illness is malaria”, explains the hospital’s director, Sister Christine Richard, who is from Switzerland. “We also find many respiratory pathologies, and a growing number of tuberculosis cases. Another big protagonist is malnutrition. “There are children who arrive here with oedema, a sign of a protein deficiency”, caused by the abject poverty in which families live in this part of the world, but due also in some cases to polygamy, which is not rare in this country, given that the majority of the population is Muslim. “If there is no agreement among the wives, or if the husband prefers another one”, explains the sister, “financial resources are not equally distributed, and children are often the ones who bear the consequences”. Poverty is by far the most tragic wound in Ngaoundal as in all of Cameroon. “We have not received our refunds in 11 months, and the government has a debt equal to about 46,000 euro”, explains Sister Christine.

The children’s eyes

The children’s eyes are penetrating, but also frightened. They are silent, even the youngest of them, their large dark eyes looking at the world, despite the needle in their small arm, despite the fact that for some of them even walking is difficult, weighed down as they are by the weakness caused by malnutrition and disease. The hospital staff, doctors and nurses, lay people and religious sisters, are always discreetly by their side. With kindness and delicacy, with caresses, smiles and a lot of compassion, they do all they can for patients and families, because there is no mother who does not stay by her own children, day and night, providing food herself, which is prepared in the structure built by the hospital. “One of the reasons we as a hospital do not offer food to the sick”, continues Christine, “besides the fact that it would cost too much, is that the people, who here are mostly Muslims, will not eat anything that they themselves have not prepared”. Influx remains the great tragedy of this place, which offers all types of support, including dedicated spaces for ophthalmology, dental care, radiology and lab analysis, as well as modern equipment. Two operating blocks, one of which — that for emergencies — operates 24/7.

Benefactors’ support

The hospital, adds Sister Christine, “is not sufficiently known though people really benefit from it”. In 2023 the average influx was equal to 33 percent of the annual capital of the facility, which, explains the sister, “is far too little to allow us to live serenely”. Poverty, but also the problem of witchdoctors, makes the hospital an option only when it is already too late to guarantee survival. Furthermore, often, after having spent the money on healers, the sick do not have enough to pay the fee. Christine’s face cannot hide her concern, which, however, is lit up with gratitude. “Our hospital was built thanks to the help of various benefactors”, she concludes, “and among them is the Gruppo India, without which we would not have been able to buy some of the equipment, just as we would not have been able to build certain structures and wells, which allow us to address another important urgency, namely, the dramatic need for water”.


Francesca Sabatinelli