Small Russian Israel under Guinean Sun01.09.2012
“This is in fact a healthcare center”, tells Mikhail Averbukh, the CEO of La Paz Hospital, located in Sipopo, a suburb of the capital. In this case, remoteness is nothing but an advantage: the hospital with a hotel for guests is a stone’s throw from the ocean, free bus brings people from the city and back twice a day. “For the time being, there are two hospitals functioning – here and in Bata. Two more is under construction. The whole country is under construction. You can watch it arising from scratch. This is fascinating. When I left Israel for Africa a year ago, I expected something completely different”.
Mikhail Averbukh speaks perfect Russian. Like most La Paz doctors he was born in former Soviet Union, that is why locals often call La Paz “Russian Hospital”
In a nutshell, the story of Equatorial Guinea is as follows: this tiny country had a bad luck from the very start. To begin with, it was colonized not by England, or, at least, France, but by Spain. Spaniards, who were primarily busy with imports of cocoa and timber, did not care to invest a dime in the infrastructure, but kept a watchful eye over the locals demanding them to be prudent Catholics and not to profess an alien religion. As a result, by the time it proclaimed independence, the “African Cinderella” (as it was once called by a journalist) was virtually at the primeval level without roads, hospitals and with beggarly illiterate people. The Spaniards even failed to discover shale oil, which had been looked for on behalf of the government. Luckily, the oil deposits were discovered by Americans, and now the Guinean GDP per capita is almost as high as that in Spain – about $30 thousand.
Today, the experience of Equatorial Guinea is illustrative of the fact that there can be enough room under the sun for everybody even in such a tiny country, given a prudent approach. Americans, French, Chinese, Lebanese, Turkish, Moroccan… And, of course, Israeli.
La Paz Hospital was founded by a famous Israeli businesswoman Jardene Ovadia, a legendary women with tremendous willpower and energy, as she is refer to in Africa. “This women is better than dozen men”, said Mikhail Averbukh. “Look up at the picture. This is also her idea”.
We are in a tomography room. The picture on the ceiling is a photo magnified several times and lighted from behind. Crowns of palm trees against a navy blue sky. A man would lie on the couch, see a usual picture and would not be scared at the surroundings. The picture really works: doctors tell that many people, especially elderly villagers, feel at a loss, to put it mildly, as they first appear in a hospital.
There is no need to enumerate all the amenities, it is just enough to say that La Paz Hospital is equipped to the highest European standards. The construction of the healthcare centers was financed by the government of the Equatorial Guinea, while the medical personnel is Israeli. The government also finances nurse training in Israel.
“We have committed ourselves to bring Western technologies and methods to Africa and make them stay”, the CEO said. “We are just at the starting point, however, something has already been done. You see, wards, modern medication and equipment is not the biggest challenge. You can build a good hospital is just a year. To change the mentality of people and teach them to care for their health is much more difficult”.
In the Equatorial Guinea with the full range of all infectious diseases known to modern science, many people still take their life and health for granted as something out of their control. They can go to a village healer, relying on luck. Cases, when an ill man is taken to hospital in such a condition when medicine is helpless, are not infrequent. Such cases with children, who get infected almost in the first hours after birth, are especially often.
At times, parents refuse to leave their child in hospital saying they have no money.
“We’ve recently virtually forced a woman with a child to stay”, tells Mikhail Averbukh. “She said, she had no money. No matter how hard we tried to convince her that we need no money from her, she never believed”.
As for money, only Spanish papers write that the majority of the population sustain themselves for one dollar a day (the price of a chocolate bar, or a can of Coca-Cola in local shops). Meanwhile, La Paz wards are always full, and not with oil tycoons, but with common people. The former prefer to be treated in Europe and the USA.
The treatment here is paid, but quite affordable for an average Guinean. Appendectomy costs $300. Pregnancy care and birth - $400. Full examination - $200. It is worth noting that the government pays 50% of all costs in maternity and childhood cases.
We’ve seen a baby, who weighed 500 g as it was born. The chances to survive are fifty-fifty even in Israel. Nevertheless, doctors hope it will live.
Anyways, by and by people come to realization that their health is in their hands. When the local radio announced that La Paz Hospital gives free vaccination against hepatitis, only few people came on the first day. As they made sure this was not a fraud, the numbers of clients were growing by leaps and bonds in the following days.
Next time, the center invited a famous facial surgeon from Germany and gave announcement on the radio: everyone who has lower jaw problems, welcome to La Paz free. A lot of people came, but most of them with teeth problems. Aren’t teeth growth in the lower jaw? No problem, mean what you say!
Today, there are 100 grown-ups, 17 children and 1 dog in the Israeli community of Sipopo.
Soon it will expand further, as the day when Guineans are treated by only Guinean doctors is still far.
Nimba Mhaat · CEO and Founder â Nimba Clothing CompanyPresident Theodoro NGUEMA is using the oil money to construct hospitals, build roads in Equatorial Guinea.The thing is that he is NOT part of the FRANCAFRIQUE( the club of weak, corrupt, controlled-by-France African "presidents"). This is one of the reasons he is vehemently criticized by Elysee/Paris, France for not allowing French companies to get the big chunk of the oil.
David Pye · Ëó÷øèé êîììåíòàòîð · BurntwoodIt's nice to hear a positive story for once on this site. Oil money has been as much a curse as it has been a blessing for most countries - the only country I can think so that has bucked that trend completely is Norway. Africa needs a success story, so best wishes to Equitorial Guinea.
David Pye · Ëó÷øèé êîììåíòàòîð · BurntwoodIt's nice to hear a positive story for once on this site. Oil money has been as much a curse as it has been a blesing for most countries - the only country I can think so that has bucked that trend completely is Norway. Africa needs a success story, so best wishes to Equitorial Guinea.