Balaveng, Cameroon – Perched in the foggy mountains of western Cameroon, the Balaveng Wound Hospital has a unique specialisation in Central Africa – it only treats wounds.
“Wounds are the ill-fated kid of medicine in Africa,” says Dr Romain Soumele, who founded the hospital in 2008.
It is estimated that more than 15 million people worldwide have a chronic wound. In Cameroon’s main hospitals, doctors reject patients with chronic or infected injuries, as their treatment with insufficient equipment is lengthy, complicated and non-lucrative. This is compounded by the fact that wounds are often seen as a result of witchcraft.
At Soumele’s hospital, 20-year-old ulcers, bedsores the size of a tennis ball, infected wounds coated with black necrosis and yellow fibrin are a common sight. As diabetes, HIV, sickle-cell or arterial problems complicate the healing process, the 42 in-house patients often stay there for months.
The small team of nurses at the hospital are specifically trained to apply the right bandage to each type of wound. Their wounds improve only to worsen again, as the skin sluggishly grows on burgeoning flesh, and they can spend up to 180,000 CFA ($330) a month.
Despite the hospital’s efforts, many of its patients leave before being fully treated due to the expense, and go back to traditional healing techniques or self-medication.
Ide Tsopbou, 35, head of the bandages section, says she often cries when patients leave without being fully healed. “You know you can do something for them but your hands are tied because they have no money left,” she says.
Sometimes, the hospital staff organises collections to help cash-stripped patients go back home. “The problem is that they always arrive here when it is already too late. Elsewhere, medical staff talks about amputation, but here, we manage to heal them,” Tsopbou says.