Francis Ngwa, Kulabei Village, North Western Cameroon
The bus carrying Dr George Bwelle 42, and a team of twenty seven volunteer doctors and nurses including students doctors from the USA. France and the Netherlands, arrives kulabei, a small village in North Western Cameroon region at night and a welcome committee arrange they spend the night in the chiefs’ palace. Dr Bwelle is head of the mobile grassroots’ voluntary organization (ASCOVIME) based in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé who almost every other weekend, drives or treks to some of the poorest and impoverished villages across the country to offer free medical care, surgeries drugs, school books and accessories. The organization helps improve the health and literacy level of people in remote areas.
The team arrives Kulabei on Friday night in early June and for two days, will consult, diagnose and when possible, treat impoverished villagers entirely for free.
Early in the morning on Saturday, they are driven to the run down four apartment house that serves as the lone village clinic with a supply of medical equipment and drugs. By 10am, more than five hundred people with all kinds of medical disorders from glaucoma, hernia, malaria and epilepsy are already in the clinic to see the health volunteers.
Tembock Solomon 65 is limping when I catch up with him. “I am here because for the last week, one of my legs has been very painful as if it is on fire. I need to know what the problem is”. Two hours later and after seeing Dr Bwelle, he proudly shows me his prescription as he limps over to the mark shift pharmacy to get his drugs.
“You met Dr Bwelle, what do you think about him?” I ask.
“Well, he is a very good doctor because no doctor just gets up in the morning and travels hundreds of kilometres to a poor village to treat people for free. I thank God for him”. He now has a pained but broad smile on his face.
According to Mrs Nforto Lilian, Chief of centre of the Kulabei health centre, Dr Bwelle’s humanitarian visit could not have happened at a more critical time. The clinic provides the most basic services and does more of health promotion and treats only minor ailments. Drugs for malaria, the biggest health threat in Cameroon are almost always out of stock.
“We are very happy that Dr Bwelle chose Kulabei to visit and I appeal that he organizes many of these campaigns so that more people can benefit”, she notes. Kulabei is one of twenty two villages in the Batibo sub division .
Since the Association des Competence pour Une Vie Meilleur known by its French acronym ASCOVIME began operations in 2008, the organization has carried out more than three thousand surgeries and given out thousands of books and other school accessories to dozens of villages across Cameroon. Their health visits are a lifeline to many. Statistics from the World Health Organization WHO indicates there is only one doctor to every 15000 patients in the country.
Seven hours after the consultations in the clinic began, I finally succeed to pull Dr Bwelle away from his makeshift theatre for a brief interview while preparations are underway for his next surgery. He looks tired but still has his trademark smile. It is almost 6pm and a standby generator is already buzzing as darkness begins creeping in. Sporting a jean trouser and an orange shirt, he does not look like your everyday doctor.
“My father was ill for twenty three years”, he tells me. Dr Bwelle explains how he had to take him to various ill equipped hospitals and clinics across the country. His family was too poor to fly him abroad for treatment.
He still remembers his father’s advice that forced him to train as a doctor. “You see how people suffer here to get treatment? When you become a doctor, think of the people who cannot afford their own treatment”.
Dr Bwelle is a surgeon at the Central hospital in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde where he works full time weekdays. To help fund his voluntary visits to remote areas, he moonlights after work in private clinics and also teaches part time.
Norry Clark is one of four undergraduate doctor students who have travelled from Chicago (USA) to have some hands-on experience with Dr Bwelle. Apart from the invaluable experience they will get working in a rudimentary setting, he and his classmates came along with some badly needed epilepsy medication. They distributed the badly needed medication to dozens of patients who had either ran out of stock or in some cases, had never had any medication to control their seizures.
For a prospective doctor, Clark sounds too emotional when he talks about the work Dr Bwelle is doing for people he has never met before.
“I think it was inspiring to see Dr Bwelle talking to all the people before we began today. It was so moving I almost thought I was going to cry hearing how grateful they were for the services he was providing them. In the US, maybe we don’t have a need for this; you don’t see it but there are few people like Dr Bwelle”.
With the help of his volunteers, Dr Bwelle performed some fifteen surgeries in Kulabei village, dispensed some badly needed medication for epilepsy and other ailments but more importantly, promised he will be sending more drugs and could eventually pay them a follow up visit.
The team left Kulabei on Sunday, two days after they arrived.
Kulabei village was quietly ticked off the well programmed annual visit schedule of Dr Bwelle and his team of volunteers from Cameroon and abroad. In the six years ASCOVIME has operated, more than 40.000 patients had been consulted and offered free dugs and more than 3500 surgeries carried out.
The smiling Dr Bwelle still has the will to continue and an endless number of volunteers to support his humanitarian gesture.