Cargo Human Care (CHC)’s action list is long - and getting longer all the time. From the day it was founded 15 years ago, its core focus has been caring for orphans at its own shelters on the outskirts of Nairobi, including their schooling. The same applies to medical care for residents of the CHC facilities. Recently, CHC has had wells drilled in the arid north of Kenya to supply water to the locals there. The construction of two schools, in which 365 children are now being taught, and aid shipments to Ukraine round off the range of activities.
He could be enjoying a quiet life: traveling, reading, lazing around, going on bike rides with his wife, Franka. He does that, too, but only sometimes. Most of the time, he's at the starting line for CHC, from morning to night. He is Fokko Doyen, the former fleet manager of Lufthansa Cargo's MD-11 freighters. The triple-jet aircraft have all been retired in the meantime. Fokko, too. He retired in December 2020.
The same goes for Michael Otto, a doctor from Lüneburg near Hamburg. He has also just retired. However, since years, he has been regularly flying to Kenya to care for patients who live in the vicinity of the CHC facilities and need medical help. He is one of 46 German doctors who also do this - free of charge and for altruistic reasons.
Providing medical care to residents of CHC facilities is the CHC’s flagship activity. It increases the acceptance of the entire project, for example with its cooperation partner, the Anglican Church, and creates ties far into Kenyan society. We spoke with specialist, Dr. Michael Otto (M.O.), and CHC chief, Fokko Doyen (F.D.), about this important, but not often communicated, field of activity.
CFG: Michael, you have been flying from Hamburg to Nairobi for years, usually once a quarter, to diagnose illnesses and treat patients at CHC's Medical Center. Statistically speaking, what are the most common health complaints of the local people?
M.O.: That varies greatly. Often, it's injuries that people have suffered at work. We also frequently diagnose HIV or TB infections. Other abnormalities, from a medical point of view, are high blood pressure, joint pain, or type 2 diabetes. Women often complain about consequential injuries following childbirth. This is because most women give birth at home, without any medical support. Diarrheal diseases in children are also a major problem. In contrast, schistosomiasis, malaria, and leprosy are rare.
CFG: How do you communicate with the patients, because they probably speak little English and no German?
M.O.: We have excellently trained local medical staff at the Medical Center, who provide us with superb professional support, and whose native language is Swahili, just like that of the patients. After many years of working for CHC, I can say that, over time, the professional cooperation between us doctors and the staff of the Medical Center, has become outstanding, also in terms of communication - to the benefit of the people.
Free services have no value
CFG: Despite all the efforts and the good equipment at the Medical Center, there are medical limits. For example, in the case of necessary operations. What happens in such cases?
M.O.: Patients with acute problems are first examined in detail. We have a very efficient laboratory, where we can quickly determine the nature of the disease and possibly how serious the symptoms are. In the case of unavoidable operations, we cooperate with the state-run Nazareth Hospital in Nairobi, which also assumes the costs. The government insurance company, NHIF, covers up to 80% of the total amount of the treatment. In particularly serious cases, Cargo Human Care supports the patient financially, by arranging sponsorship from members of the association, for example, for the purpose of purchasing a properly fitting prosthesis.
CFG: What do patients have to pay for treatment at the Medical Center?
M.O.: We take a symbolic amount because anything that is free has no value in the eyes of the Kenyans.
CFG: When is your next assignment in Nairobi?
M.O.: I was just there recently, and already have a week in October blocked in my schedule.
Wide range of medical services
CFG: Now to you, Fokko, and the question as to what role the Medical Center plays in the acceptance of CHC by the resident community?
F.D.: It is enormously important. We already saw that one year after the start-up in 2010. The demand was so great that we had to expand. We doubled the number of treatment rooms from 2 to 4, significantly enlarged the pharmacy, and set up our own laboratory for diagnostic purposes, as Michael just explained. Last year, 32,000 adults received medical treatment. Last April, for example, there were well over 3,000 patients. The female / male ratio is about 70 to 30.
CFG: How do residents know when an orthopedist, general practitioner, gynecologist, or ophthalmologist, for example, temporarily offers his or - in the case of female physicians - her services at the Medical Center?
F.D.: It is announced by notices, so it is very transparent. People sign up on lists beforehand, come to their appointment early in the morning, and wait patiently for their turn. If necessary, until late afternoon. Despite long waiting times sometimes, they are very grateful to be treated here by highly qualified local staff and German specialists. Mostly residents come who normally cannot afford the doctor. Unfortunately, the phrase still holds true. "If you get sick in Africa and have no money, you have to die!" We want to do something against this with our medical offer.
CFG: Why do 46 German doctors fly to Nairobi several times a year and care for patients there without any payment?
F.D.: Mostly for humanitarian reasons. Perhaps also because they want a break from their everyday lives and they see our CHC project as particularly worthy of support, of which they consider themselves a part. There is not one reason, but many and very subjective grounds. Most of the doctors are also sponsors of a foster child.
A child miseducated is a child lost
CFG: Do they have to pay for travel expenses out of their own pockets?
F.D.: No, they receive free flights from Lufthansa Cargo. Lufthansa's cargo subsidiary, in general, from the Executive Board all the way through to the apron staff, supports us in an exemplary manner. As an organization, we owe the company a great debt of gratitude. Without the airline's support, the entire project would not be feasible.
CFG: You have also built two schools...
F.D.: ... which we also maintain. Meanwhile, 365 children and young people are being taught there. True to the motto of former U.S. President, John F. Kenndy: “A child miseducated is a child lost!”
CFG: CHC cooperates with the Anglican Church of Kenya. How is the cooperation going?
F.D.: It is the sponsor of the Mothers' Mercy Home and both schools (Happy Child School in Nairobi and Wings Academy in Marsabit). Which orphans we can care for and take into our care at Mothers' Mercy Home, is ultimately decided by the church. We always try to achieve a 50/50 ratio of girls to boys. The church and its bishop also support the Medical Center, which brings recognition from the population. This cooperation is very important for us as a foreign NGO, as it opens some doors for us. We can't do this without a local partner – but, as with any cooperation, there is still room for optimization.
CFG: ... and with politics?
F.D.: The contacts are there, but we have not yet succeeded in having the costs for the visas or the work permits for the doctors waived. This would be a signal of appreciation of our work by the government.
CFG: Michael, Fokko, kudos to you for your commitment, thanks for talking with us, and all the best for Cargo Human Care.
We welcome and publish comments from all authenticated users.