When I visited Dr Umbalo at the M Soma Clinic almost 3 years ago, one of the first things that struck me was the population density of Lubumbashi. Without people, it would seem to be a small town based on the visible infrastructure. Still, somehow it houses an estimated 4 million people. Only half of the people are known to reside there due to tax and census data, but your eyes insist you believe the estimations are likely very modest. The closest correlation I can draw is to the outside of a football stadium on game day. In Lubumbashi, every day are the streets as busy and crowded as a tailgating parking lot before kick-off. It makes traveling the streets by car quite challenging, and yet somehow they do.

So I inquired whether the city had any ambulance company. It did not. In fact, I was told it would not surprise him if there were no ambulance in the whole province. We discussed how difficult it would be to transport a patient by ambulance on the crowded avenues and even more harshly on the unimproved “streets” that penetrated the residential neighborhoods. Still, upon reflection, we determined that ambulances would be useful, even there, and that they could be more useful there than they might otherwise be here in the US because so many patients may not have their own transportation to come to the clinic or hospital in person.

This thought gave birth to another initiative we are developing; the Mobile Health Unit. In the US, dental care and blood collection activities often utilize busses and RV’s to conduct remote outreach. In the Congo, road conditions restrict the concept to a smaller vehicle, so the idea of converting an ambulance into a single examination room makes a lot of sense if you want to bring the best healthcare to the most remote areas of the province.

So fast forward a few years and we are exploring both custom mobile health units and acquiring used ambulances to use as designed. Several times we inquired with ambulance companies and fire districts–even scoured the internet for deals. Finally, thanks to the efforts of one of our own, we have managed to find an ambulance that has just been retired in Southern Oregon. This is an exciting development!

Soon it will be possible to bring imobilized patients to our clinic for proper care as well as bringing providers and supplies to conduct examinations in the field to further develop our plan for developing mobile health units and rural health outreach in the Congo.

A special thanks goes to Dr Ellen Heinitz for her determination to find this critical equipment and the Oakridge Fire Department for choosing our organization to be the recipient. We will definitely put it to quick use!

Also worth noting is that we are getting close to another shippment of medical supplies from Oregon to Lubumbashi. If you know of any functioning or servicable medical equipment or supplies, please visit our contact page and let us know how we can help you put it back into service where it is needed. Thanks to the recent clinic expansion, we are now in despirate need of hospital beds to furnish the new rooms. Also needed is a surgical table. Still, we would be more than happy to accept any medical or diagnostic devices.

Please check back with us often to follow up on our progress…

  • Arleen Brown

    We read an article about the ambulance in the Ashland Tidings paper. How wonderful a gift.