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A new era for health care in Tunda, East Congo

The elevated plan of the Tunda General Hospital shows the layout of the buildings in relation to one other and covered walkways of the compound. Illustration: Gaston Kandolo Kanyantwa.
The elevated plan of the Tunda General Hospital shows the layout of the buildings in relation to one other and covered walkways of the compound. Illustration: Gaston Kandolo Kanyantwa.
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Across the wide Lomami River from Central Congo in a rural area called Tunda, United Methodists have a new hospital, once again. For a century, Methodists in East Congo, in partnership with Methodists from the United States and Europe, have provided health care in this remote, tropical region. Even today, there is no other hospital within a 62-mile radius. Without this facility, 100,000 people would lose access to health services.

East Congo Methodists tried in 2016 to stabilize the old hospital building, but Dr. Damas Lushima, the United Methodist Health Board Coordinator for the East Congo area, said it could not be saved.

The hospital’s community health workers, many of whom are United Methodist, continued to visit families regularly. They conducted health checks and referred people for more serious conditions, but fewer people were showing up at the hospital. They were losing confidence. Mujeni wondered where women were delivering their babies without the maternity ward.

Together, East Congo leaders and Global Health staff decided a hospital was still a critical need in Tunda and the solution was to let go of the old building. During the last two years, nine new buildings have been constructed, making up a hospital compound with separate one-story wards for maternity, surgery, infectious disease, x-ray, lab work, and other medical necessities.

The lights are on! A building of the new Tunda General Hospital is well-lit after dark, thanks to a new solar-panel renewable energy system. Photo: East Congo Health Board. 
The lights are on! A building of the new Tunda General Hospital is well-lit after dark, thanks to a new solar-panel renewable energy system. Photo: East Congo Health Board.

Global Ministries has invested close to half a million dollars in the new Tunda Hospital. With this and other renovations, the Global Health unit, with expertise in the areas of Maternal Newborn Child Health, Advance # 3021770, (MNCH), Hospital Systems Strengthening (HSS), infectious disease, primarily through Imagine No Malaria (INM), and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Advance # 3020600 (WASH)), encourages integration of all these areas.

The new buildings are joined by a covered walkway that is airy and open. Contractors drilled a borehole to tap a clean water source and a pump and pipe system sends water where it is needed. A new solar panel array provides the hospital’s electricity for the water system and for lighting. Even at night, the hospital has light, and women no longer deliver their babies in the dark. New sanitation facilities complete the construction.

Clean water is also available to people in nearby villages, so community members come to draw water. Clean water goes a long way in preventing disease and improving overall health in the population.

Global Ministries’ Environmental Sustainability unit provided a viable energy solution for Tunda, which was one of the first UMC facilities to receive a solar panel array system. This type of clean, renewable energy systems doesn’t rely on an intermittent or nonexistent electrical grid. Investing in renewable energy solutions contributes to meeting a net-zero carbon emission goal agreed upon by agencies of the UMC, including Global Ministries.

The old Tunda hospital, as photographed in 2016, shows efforts to brace and shore up the façade. Photo: Mike DuBose, um news. The black and white inset shows the building in the mid-1950s. Photo: Roy Smyres, BOGM 
The old Tunda hospital, as photographed in 2016, shows efforts to brace and shore up the façade. Photo: Mike DuBose, um news. The black and white inset shows the building in the mid-1950s. Photo: Roy Smyres, BOGM.

The steps taken to strengthen facilities to handle the relentless toll of malaria, prevalent in most of Africa, also help them prepare for other kinds of epidemics, like Ebola, cholera and COVID-19. At the core of epidemic control and prevention is a strong health system. The new facility in Tunda is preparing that community for whatever lies ahead. East Congo oversees 22 other health facilities that Global Health is also helping to strengthen.

Although the buildings of the new Tunda Hospital are completed, the facility is not yet fully functional. Work continues to furnish the wards, supply new medical equipment, and stock medicines, masks and other protective gear. Training is also an ongoing task, but soon, all will come together.

Consider a gift to Abundant Health, Advance # 3021770 to strengthen health care systems in remote places like Tunda.

excerpt from a story by Christie R. House, consultant writer and editor for Global Ministries and UMCOR.

The Advance is the accountable, designated-giving arm of The United Methodist Church. The Advance invites contributors to designate support for projects related to the General Board of Global Ministries. Individuals, local churches, organizations, districts and annual conferences may donate to The Advance. One hundred percent of every gift to The Advance goes to the project selected by the giver. Gifts to missionaries support the entire missionary community.