Feature

Melting Away

Providing hope—Bongolo Hospital

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The baby, just three months old, sleeps peacefully, despite the feeding and oxygen tubes taped to his right cheek. He has been on oxygen since he arrived at Bongolo Hospital two and a half weeks earlier, coughing and gasping because of a respiratory infection from a germ that wouldn’t bother a healthy child.

The 24-year-old mother sits on the bed reading a book. She looks healthy, which, knowing what I know, surprises me. This is her first baby, and she does not have a husband. She seems so cheerful that I wonder if she knows her baby has AIDS—which he could have only gotten from her—and he is going to die.

I leaf through the chart as I ask her what happened, and she explains that the baby suddenly got sick. She thinks he’s doing quite well now, but the chart reveals otherwise. Despite nutritious tube feedings, antibiotics, the attention of concerned doctors and nurses and continuous oxygen, the little boy is melting away. Without antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, he’ll be gone in a month.

Spiritual Renewal

Ten-year-old Doria arrived at Bongolo Hospital in October of last year. The history provided by her grandmother was sketchy. Doria’s mother and father were wealthy Gabonese. Two years ago they divorced, and Doria went with her mother to Lambarene, not far from Albert Schweitzer’s famous hospital.

When Doria became seriously ill the first time, her father sent money. Instead of taking Doria to the hospital, her mother gave the money to the best-known nganga (traditional healer) in the province to find out who was causing her daughter’s illness (in Gabon, sickness is considered the result of sorcery or demonic activity). The nganga tried a variety of “treatments” to determine who was responsible, even burning Doria with hot wax. After several weeks, he announced that she was possessed by a demon.

The mother wasn’t feeling well either, so she left her daughter with a relative in Libreville. Therefore, Doria’s grandmother, a Christian, traveled 400 miles to get her granddaughter. By this time Doria was paralyzed on the left side of her body, had developed bedsores and was severely depressed. The once beautiful rich girl now looked old and twisted. Not knowing what to do and convinced that the girl had a spiritual problem, Doria’s grandmother brought her to Bongolo Hospital.

Dr. Saskia, a missionary doctor from Holland, was the first to see Doria in the emergency room. She gave Doria antibiotics, asked the surgeons to care for her bedsores, prayed with her family and diagnosed AIDS.

At first, Doria wouldn’t look at Dr. Saskia or answer her questions, but after a week she began to feel the love our staff had for her and began to talk. She explained that her illness had started with a dream in which a “vampire spirit” stole her spirit. Every day it came back to eat her blood and all the medications that were in her body, making it impossible for her to get well. Dr. Saskia suggested that she talk to Pastor Pascal, the hospital chaplain, and Doria agreed.

As Doria talked, Pascal invited Doria’s grandmother into the room. When she finished, he explained that Jesus loved her and could protect her from vampire spirits. All she needed to do was to confess her sins and ask Him to be her Savior. Once she understood, Doria did not hesitate. She immediately invited Jesus into her heart. She confessed to her grandmother that she had stolen some of her money.

From that day on, Doria looked different and started to smile. Previously, she refused to eat meals her grandmother prepared because she thought it was beneath her to eat village food, and she did not have much of an appetite. Now she ate everything. Although we had no ARV medications to give her, she put on some weight and her bedsores began to heal.

After Doria spent a month in the hospital, her grandmother had to return home. Their food and money was gone, and she had a family to feed back in Tchibanga. If she did not plant gardens at this time, she and her family would have no harvest. As they said goodbye, even Doria knew that she would probably not return alive. Despite that, she left with Jesus in her heart and with a joy she had never known before. We never found out how she contracted the disease, although it was likely the result of a blood transfusion.

No End in Sight

Approximately 200,000 people live in Gabon’s two southern provinces, Nyanga and Ngounié. Based on a study of “healthy” people volunteering to give transfusions at our hospital, nearly one of every ten Gabonese adults between the ages of 15 and 50 is HIV positive.

There could be as many as 20,000 HIV positive people in the area served by Bongolo Hospital. Without the ARV medications to keep the disease at bay, all of them will eventually die. Because it is harder for men to become infected, two thirds of HIV infected people will be women and children. Low-cost ARV treatment is available in Libreville, 340 miles to the north, and in Lambarene, 150 miles to the north and six hours away on dirt roads, but few patients from our two provinces can afford to travel that far.

Where will it end? Today there are an estimated 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa infected with HIV. More than 20 million people have died, and more than 30 million children have been orphaned since the beginning of the epidemic. Two million more die from the disease every year. The World Health Organization recently estimated that by 2020 there may be as many as 80 million people living with HIV/AIDS. The epidemic is out of control in Africa and is gaining momentum.

In the Battle

Will you pray for those of us who are in the thick of this fight? Will you join us? Will you help us so we can help the many who come to us because their bodies are melting away from AIDS? The Alliance has already provided $50,000 to build a clinic at Bongolo Hospital to treat these patients. It also has appointed additional doctors and nurses to join our team. The national Alliance church in Gabon has followed our lead and has named a pastor to coordinate its efforts nationwide to help and evanglize people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

We still need funding to purchase enough ARV medications to begin treating the 200 patients we are already following, while at the same time we seek other funding for the long haul. We still need money to buy laboratory equipment, to furnish our new clinic when it is completed in a few months, to train additional national staff and to hire those we train.

This situation may cause some to despair. However, if we encounter AIDS patients in the places God sends us, then like the Good Samaritan we are to help them by using all the resources God provides. These are the lepers of our time, and Jesus made it clear by His own example how we are to respond to them. With our help, many will live to take care of their families and see their children grow to adulthood. Many will also respond to the evident love of Christ for them in their suffering, and welcome Him into their lives.

The Sad Truth

Many victims of HIV are in denial. A 30-year-old woman looked at her wasting arms and said to our doctors, “See, I think I’m a bit better today.” She died a month later.

Another young girl didn’t believe her illness was caused by HIV, despite a positive laboratory test. Her favorite nganga (traditional healer) had explained that she was sick because her father was doing sorcery to kill her, just as he had killed her mother. After three months, she recovered from the infections and went home. She died suddenly a week later. When we told another young woman that she was HIV positive, she replied, “Oh, that’s not a problem. God will take care of me.”

Nineteen-year-old Carine came to us last July complaining of weight loss and fever. She had been a stunningly beautiful young woman but now was suffering from diarrhea and tuberculosis. After a few weeks of treatment, she started regaining weight. But then HIV took over, and within two months she became a walking skeleton. Her mother, helpless to do anything, sat by her bed for a month until she died.

Twenty-two-year-old Gladys came in at the same time as Carine and died in the same way. A 20-year-old mother came the next week and died, leaving her baby. A week later her baby died too.

Another baby, born with a cleft lip and palate, arrived at the hospital for surgery. Two days after the operation, the repair fell apart, and we discovered she was HIV positive. After three months in the hospital, she recovered enough to return home, only to die within the week.

Past Alliance Life Issues

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