Safe Operations

September 29 2019 | by

THANKS to St Anthony’s Charities (Caritas Antoniana) and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, renovation works on the St. Mary Matembwe Catholic Parish Dispensary, Njombe, Tanzania, were completed in October 2017. After completion of the project, Father Methodius Msanga, parish priest and project supervisor, reported that the renovated buildings had led to greatly improved service. He and the whole community were thankful, but there was more work to be done: in particular, the dispensary lacked a sterile operating theatre. “I lost my sister last year,” wrote Dental, a villager who had worked extensively on the renovation project. “She was at the dispensary for the delivery of her baby, but there were complications, and we had to arrange for the long trip to the nearest hospital 60 kilometres away. During the trip I lost my sister – so please help us build a small operation room so that women and children can have a safe delivery here when an operation is needed.”


Rain shortage


The Catholic parish of Matembwe is part of the Njombe Catholic Diocese. Geographically, the area is hilly with both steep and gentle slopes, and has two climatic seasons, the dry and the wet seasons. It has a reputation for being cold. The parish itself includes 30 villages with a total population of around 56,000 people, of which around 26,000 are Catholics. “The people of the parish are very poor,” says Father Method, “about 95 percent of them are subsistence farmers cultivating mainly food crops such as potatoes and maize in small fields, with little surplus. They are dependent on the rain, and with an on-going problem of climate change there has been a shortage of food whenever there is a rain shortage or drought.”

The renovated dispensary at Matembwe serves the villages of the parish. It has all the necessary departments required for a health facility as defined by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and treats between fifty and sixty patients each day. Some of the more common diseases treated are diarrhoea, typhoid fever, cholera, respiratory diseases, pneumonia, HIV, Malaria and TB. “However, despite having the necessary departments, no operation services were being offered,” says Father Method, “After diagnosis, many times minor surgical services through to major surgery is required. All cases need to be transferred to the regional hospital along a rough road, and in some cases deaths occur due to delay in treatment or a lack of transport.”


New operating theatre


A project was proposed to provide a new operating theatre at the health centre to allow such operations to be carried out, thereby improving the quality of professional medical care. The operating suite would include the operating room, preparation room, WC and bathroom, sterilisation room, laundry room, a doctor’s office and a store room. The local church would provide a contribution, and the villagers would also contribute locally available construction materials and participate in the building works. The total cost would be just under €24,000. St Anthony’s Charities approved a request for a grant of €19,000. It was envisaged work would begin in April 2018 and be completed within four months.

Work began on time in early April after receipt of the first instalment at the end of March 2018. “With the funds received we were able to ready building materials such as stones, sand, cement, timber, nails, iron sheets, iron bars, and bricks,” explains Father Method, “then followed digging and construction of the foundations, laying of bricks, wall construction and roofing activities.” But although good progress was being made, heavy rainfall slowed work considerably. “Work could not be carried out continuously,” Father Method continues, “there were also difficulties in transporting materials to the village, and often water from a hand-drilled well ran out so we needed to fetch water from afar. The price of cement also increased due to a scarcity caused by underproduction.” In spite of these difficulties work on the first phase was complete by the beginning of June.


First operations


The second phase commenced in early July following receipt of the second and final instalment, but it soon ran into difficulties due to a change in the role of Father Method. The parish priest of Mavanga, 60 kilometres away, had some health problems which prevented him from continuing his work. He had been working alone, but there were many things which needed urgent and serious attention. Due to the shortage of priests, the bishop asked Father Method to transfer there resulting in him being unable to monitor progress in Matembwe, but he was still very much determined to make sure everything was carried out correctly. Further to that, rain, again, caused further disruption both to work and transport. Further construction materials were purchased, including plumbing and electrical materials, tiles, ceiling boards and aluminium sheets. Plastering of all the walls was completed both inside and out, and construction and roofing of a corridor connecting the operating suite to other buildings. With floor tiles laid, windows and doors in place, electrical installation complete and the wall paint dry, work was finally completed in March 2019 – eight months behind schedule.

“We worked together for almost one year to realise our dream of having an operating theatre at the Matembwe dispensary,” says Father Method. “Although it has taken us a long time, we are happy to see that we have succeeded at last. However, we must apologise that we were unable to work within the time plan of our project.” Through the Health Department, the diocese of Njombe organised equipment for the operating theatre and the first operations were able to commence soon after completion. It is expected that due to the improved services and having operating facilities nearby, the villagers will save money on transport and will have more time to work in their fields. The number of deaths due to complications during child birth should also significantly reduce.


Safe deliveries


Sister Glasiana has been a nurse and midwife at Matembwe dispensary since 2015. “I have witnessed the development of our health facility from the time of the renovation until the building of the new theatre,” she says. “We now hope to provide safe delivery to all women here in our facility. Maria recently gave birth to a baby girl, and everything went well. Her sister-in-law assisted during the delivery. They both give thanks to St Anthony’s Charities for the work done here. It will be a great help to the whole community.”

“I would like to thank St Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony personally for your support for Matembwe Dispensary,” concludes Father Method. “We have been working together to improve the quality of health services in Matembwe. On behalf of the whole community we thank you for your collaboration. I have now been in Mavanga parish since last year – a rural community about sixty kilometres from Matembwe. Here we have a health centre, but no theatre and there are only a few worn out houses for nurses. Everything needs renovating. We also have a kindergarten that needs to be developed to provide a primary and secondary school. We hope to work with you again in the future on these projects for the community of Mavanga. Thanks again, our dearest friends, for your continuing support.”

Updated on September 29 2019