29 July 2016

Portrait of Patrick Muhoza. Photo: Thandiwe McCloy

Patrick Muhoza, a 36-year-old Rwandan doctor, used his valuable skills and compassion to provide child and maternal healthcare at an MSF-supported hospital in Am Timan, Chad. During his nine-month assignment, he mostly worked in the paediatric department where he fulfilled his passion for treating sick children. 

“Most of my working experience has been in maternal and childcare which has developed my strong interest in caring for children,” explains Patrick. “I want to keep helping sick kids, wherever they are.” 

In 2015, MSF teams carried out 4,400 antenatal consultations, treated 8,100 children for malaria and assisted 2,100 deliveries at the Am Timan hospital among other services.

Patrick also assisted midwives during complicated deliveries and managed numerous potentially fatal disorders of pregnancy like eclampsia – a condition linked to high blood pressure in mothers which can lead to seizures and coma endangering the lives of mothers and babies.

“My duties extended to providing prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, administering HIV testing and managing HIV and TB patients,” explains Patrick.

However, he gained the greatest satisfaction from establishing a neonatal unit at the hospital to provide better care for newborn infants. He also put plans, strategies and procedures in place to improve neonatal care and trained staff on enhancing follow-up care for premature babies.

Although hugely rewarding, his job came with its share of challenges. “I faced many difficulties around people’s opinions on what was best for their children as well as their cultural beliefs and trust in Western medicine,” says Patrick. “In some cases, parents refused for their children to have blood transfusions or to undergo resuscitation procedures because they felt it would harm them. When parents kept on refusing, these children died. This was sad and frustrating.”

Patrick in the field. Photo: MSF

Patrick was faced with instances where parents demanded removing their child on oxygen from ICU as they believed they could provide better care at home. Sometimes fathers discharged their kids from hospital to take them to a traditional healer only to return a few days later when the traditional medicine didn’t work and their children were in worse condition. In addition to these difficulties, Patrick also had to deal with challenges due to local attitudes on pregnancy and child birth. “In Chad, a man makes all the decisions. Women don’t really have a say in their own or their children’s health. Some fathers refused a child undergoing a certain procedure or who took them out of hospital before they were healed. Some men refused for their wives to have a caesarean section which cost their lives.”

Facing this kind of resistance, Patrick and his colleagues explained the reasons for providing certain treatment and carrying out specific procedures. “We also called the chiefs and governor of the district to educate people on the motives and benefits of our medical practices.”

During this assignment, Patrick also worked on an MSF malnutrition project in Bokoro, central Chad. Bokoro’s harsh climate leads to small harvests and there is little pasture for animals to graze causing food scarcity. Other reasons for alarming rates of child malnutrition include poor infant-feeding practices, unemployment and limited access to clean water. Children who drink contaminated water develop diarrhoea, causing them to lose nutrients and this contributes to malnutrition.

“We had 60 to 70 admissions a week - mostly for severe malnutrition - at the MSF-supported Bokoro hospital,” says Patrick. “We also treated many children sick with pneumonia and malaria as being malnourished lowered children’s immunity.” Moms were given PlumpyNut – a peanut-based mineral-and vitamin-rich ready-to-use therapeutic food for rehabilitation of malnourished children – to feed their children at home.  

Find out more about MSF's work in Chad