Bethlehem, PA (6/1/2016) – A St. Luke’s University Health Network ambulance will soon be traveling far beyond its typical service area transporting patients in an unlikely area – near the equator in Africa.
St. Luke’s is donating the ambulance to Mbingo Baptist Hospital (MBH) in the northwest region of Cameroon. Since Spring 2014, the St. Luke’s International Surgical Studies Program (SLISS), has partnered with the Cameroon Hospital to improve access and quality of health care for nearby villagers while also providing St. Luke’s surgical residents with a rewarding and eye-opening international medical experience. The partnership was the brainchild of Dr. Richard P. Sharpe, who leads the SLISS program and has escorted five groups to the third-world country for one-month stays. Besides Dr. Sharpe, a total of seven residents and four attending physicians have made the trip.
“The donation of this ambulance is very significant,” Dr. Sharpe said. “The hospital has never had an ambulance before and will use it primarily to transport very ill patients to another hospital for a CAT scan because MBH does not have its own scanner. The ambulance will be involved in saving lives because a lot of very sick people will get the studies they need.”
In Cameroon, few people have cars. “If you’re rich, you have a motorcycle,” he said. “If you’re very rich you have a car. It’s not uncommon for a patient who is very ill to take two days getting to the hospital through a combination of walking and hitchhiking.”
The hospital resembles a United States hospital of 40 or 50 years ago, he said, with large open wards for men, women and children. They have windows that close but are left open because while temperatures hover in the 80s, there is no air conditioning. The hospital lacks modern technology and ancillary services such as a radiologist and CAT scanner, surgical specialists, and respiratory therapy. And MBH has only rudimentary laboratory capability. Fees also resemble days past with a simple hernia operation costing about $7. Even so, with no insurance and extreme poverty, patients who have no money are happy to work off their hospital bills.
Mbingo Baptist Hospital is one of only three tertiary referral hospitals in Cameroon and the only faith-based one. With more than 300 beds, MBH surgeons perform more than 6,000 major and 4,000 minor surgeries a year, Dr. Sharpe said, even more than St. Luke’s University Hospital – Bethlehem Campus. The combination of large surgical volume, lack of support services and the fact that patients often appear with illnesses and conditions in advance stages provides residents with a challenging and rewarding medical experience.
“Residents get to see their value as surgeons,” Dr. Sharpe said. “They have a great impact in Cameroon – even bigger than they have in the U.S. They treat extremely ill patients in an austere setting where medical supplies are limited and ancillary support services are non-existent.”
While in Cameroon, the St. Luke’s physicians work side by side with their African counterparts in an ongoing exchange of training and experiences. Only fourth year residents travel to Cameroon and because they are already experienced in many advanced procedures, they help teach first year African residents. Permanent staff and St. Luke’s visitors learn much from each other.
Figure Caption: St. Luke’s University Health Network recently donated an ambulance to Mbingo Baptist Hospital (MBH) in the northwest region of Cameroon.
About St. Luke’s
St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is a non-profit, regional, fully integrated, nationally recognized network providing services at six hospitals and more than 200 sites, primarily in Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Schuylkill, Bucks, Montgomery, Berks and Monroe counties in Pennsylvania and in Warren County, New Jersey.
Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University/St. Luke’s University Health Network
The Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and St. Luke’s University Health Network in Bethlehem, have partnered to create the distinctive Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University / St. Luke’s University Health Network. The inaugural class of Temple/St. Luke’s matriculated in August 2011. The Temple/St. Luke’s collaboration brings together two institutions, each with a long tradition and outstanding record in medical education and patient care.
Mariella B. Miller Senior Director, Corporate Communications St. Luke’s University Health Network 484-526-4134 Mariella.Miller@sluhn.org
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