The Humanitas University Bangui project: cooperation and training for Central African doctors throughout the 2020 pandemic
A project tackled with enthusiasm and determination, without forgetting the value of altruism, even in a difficult year such as the last one, dominated by the global pandemic. In 2020, Humanitas University’s Bangui project maintained the relationship between Milan and the capital of the Central African Republic.
The Bambino Gesù Paediatric Hospital in Rome and Humanitas University have been working closely to train young doctors in a country characterised by extreme poverty and troubled by internal fights between armed groups competing for the territory’s mineral and natural resources. After the last elections held on 27 December 2020, violence erupted again. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to escape abroad or flee to the capital, the only area still under full central government control.
The Bangui project, which Humanitas University joined in 2018, has an ambitious goal: to contribute to the reconstruction of the university curriculum, which has been almost completely wiped out by the war. From the Medical degree courses to the School of Specialisation in Paediatrics, the project aims to train professionals and provide essential skills in an area of the world characterized by a high birth but also a high infant mortality rate.
Dr Maria Grazia Bordoni, Head of Vascular Surgery II in Humanitas and coordinator of the Bangui project for Humanitas University, takes stock of 2020 as follows: “These have been very complicated months, not only because of the pandemic, but also because of the elections. The situation is far from calm and there is a lot of concern for the safety of colleagues and students at the local university. In addition, the country has closed its borders to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but in doing so, it has isolated even more and increased poverty.
Despite the difficulties, the project never stopped. “Shortly before the pandemic outbreak, last February we organised a trip that involved Dr Riccardo Fesce, Dr Isabella Barajon and Dr Licia Montagna from Humanitas together with external specialist Luciana Zanon for an important series of lectures, carried out in agreement with the local Ministry of Health,” explains Dr Bordoni.
In February Humanitas University welcomed two doctors from the Central African Republic who attended in-depth courses on ultrasound and CT diagnostics: “Due to the flight ban, they had to stay until June. They continued attending the hospital even after their internship ended, so they were able to see how we responded to the emergency. It was a very formative experience for them.
In the second half of the year, the Bangui project was forced to slow down due to international restrictions. “More trips were planned for August and September, but they were suspended,” explains Dr Bordoni, “but we are still working using remote learning. The Bambin Gesù has created a dedicated platform where we can upload our courses. These materials are available for the students to improve and strengthen their skills”.
Thanks to this platform, new training activities will also be launched for nurses and physiotherapists. “This is an important contribution for a country that is in great need. Until three years ago there was only one paediatrician in the whole of the Central African Republic. Even training a small group of specialists represents an important injection of resources for the Country”.
Lastly, in December Humanitas University confirmed a scholarship for a young Central African doctor to specialise abroad, as the country has no other Specialization schools besides Paediatrics. The grant will help a student attend the University of Dakar in Senegal, one of the oldest and most important Universities in the continent, so he can then return to Bangui to help disseminate better medical practices.
In a context where Internet connection is very limited and textbooks are also scarce, this has been a long and difficult journey, “but it’s bringing great satisfaction on both sides” concludes Bordoni, “working with people who live in a state of constant emergency allows us to see our current situation with different eyes. It also motivates us to commit even more to our daily work”.