Renee Valach

Renée's Rainforest Reflections


Renée’s Rainforest Reflections March 2020

A lot has changed in a month. Last month, I didn’t write anything at all about coronavirus. Since then, there are 7 confirmed cases of Covid 19 in Gabon with one death. Gabon has closed its borders with no flights in or out. Churches are closed and there are no gatherings of more than 10 people, so that even our team can not all meet together. There is a nationwide curfew from 7:30 pm to 6 am. Taxis and cars are limited to 3 people. The police have taken the papers of most of the local taxi men for violating this order, so many of our staff are having difficulty getting to work.

The hospital has made a response plan. We have put up posters and hand washing stations around the hospital. We have sealed up the hospital except for two points of entry where we are screening everyone entering the hospital with questions and temporal artery temperatures. We have an isolation area ready in the old Eye Clinic. (Who knew that move into the new Ophthalmology Center which was delayed for so long, would happen exactly at the perfect time?)

On Monday March 22nd, we had our first suspected case. The patient was from a village near the capital of our province and had respiratory distress and an oxygen requirement. He had been at a traditional religious ceremony with several people from Libreville, but could not say if the people from Libreville had traveled internationally or had been exposed to people who were sick. I evaluated the patient, and completed the required form. The next step was to call a national case reporting number that is supposed to bring help in the form of someone with a test kit and protective equipment. The call was delayed several hours by lack of cell phone service. Eventually, I got through, gave the information, and was told someone would call back. When the call was returned, it was the Minister of Health for the country. Unfortunately, it was an unusually bad day for cell service and that call was dropped. Later, I spoke to the Regional Health Director for our province. He went to the patient’s village, and found and interviewed the people who had traveled from Libreville. They had been in the area for two months, so well before Covid 19, and thus could not have transmitted it to him. This patient allowed us to have a practice run. We will debrief the things we did well and the things we can do better next time. We are also planning simulations with actor patients.

While we are making these preparations, I am praying that Gabon and Africa are somehow spared the full blow of coronavirus as in the United States and Europe. In the West, statistics say that 20% of infected people will become severely ill and 5% will require intensive care. We don’t have intensive care, so in our situation so that 5% may not survive. Those people could me my friends and coworkers. Bongolo has roughly 10 working oxygen machines for the whole hospital. We are also the regional hospital for trauma, obstetrics, pediatrics, tuberculosis and ophthalmology. If we give oxygen to Covid patients, we will have to make decisions of taking it away from those other patients.

One more surrealistic thing
One more surrealistic thing occurred in this very unusual month, after my house was robbed. A thief slit the screen on my porch and stole about $100, my Kindle, a cell phone I keep for visitors, and quite a bit of food. The police caught two children. The next required step was for me and another doctor each to drive with a gendarme, a thief, and the father of a thief in our respective cars to the magistrate in the provincial capital. Having to transport my own my thieves was one more bizarre thing in this already surrealistic month.

I’ll leave you with one more thought. The Bible reading program I’ve been doing (It’s called Mission119. Go check it out. I really appreciate Dr. Soper.) currently has me in Isaiah. This week I read the following verses which I found encouraging, and maybe they will encourage you as well.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Isaiah 43: 1-3

He is still God. He is still in control. Even when I am walking through the virus he is God.

Praises and Prayer Requests

- Our first suspect patient was negative.
Prayer Requests
- Pray for an end to coronavirus.
- Pray that Africa would be spared the full effects of the virus.
- Pray for safety for us at Bongolo.
- Pray for us to shine the light of God's love during this time of fear.
- Pray for the hospital's finances when many fewer patients are coming.



Updated: March 29, 2020

Field Assignment
Country of Service
B P 13.021
Gros Bouquet

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