The DREAM program of the Community of Sant’Egidio has opened a new health center in the rural city of Dubreka, in Guinea Conakry. The building was financed by the Japanese Embassy in the country, and equipped with the support of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.
It is the first DREAM center to be 100% solar powered: it is not connected to the national electricity grid and has no generators, relying on a photovoltaic system that can be upgraded at a later time if the need arises. A well supplies 2 tanks of water, used to optimize the functioning of a pumping system in the presence of solar energy. The health center’s water supply will soon be made available to the local populace through a public fountain.
The inauguration of the center comes a year after the signing of the agreement between the embassy and the Community of Sant’Egidio. Participants to the event included: the recently nominated Japanese Ambassador Hideo Matsubara, the UNAIDS Representative in the country Dr. Dado Sy Gnakassi, the Mayor of the city El Hadj Alseny Bangoura, representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the leaders of the local population and neighbourhoods.
Following the building of many schools in Conakry and in other areas in Guinea, and cooperation in several projects for agricultural development, the health center is the first to be financed by Japan in the country. Earlier collaborations took place with the DREAM program in Mozambique, including the construction of centers in Matola and Zimpeto.
The Japanese Ambassador to Guinea remarked that “The support to enhancing basic health services is one of the pillars of the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development”.
DREAM has been present in Dubreka since 2011, when it opened a small “satellite” center in a rented house with the aim of enabling access to treatment to patients who did not reside in the capital, where DREAM has been operating since 2006 in a center equipped with a molecular biology laboratory.
The new center has 300 patients already in care and is a new starting point in the prefecture. It now plans on stabilizing its presence by providing daily care and through the construction, paired with examination rooms, of a small laboratory for haematology, biochemistry and analysis of the immune system.
The building represents a new opportunity for the DREAM program of the Community of Sant’Egidio to spread the culture of the right to health in rural areas. The health center will carry out awareness-raising activities on the ground also thanks to the presence of activists already operating in the area, coupled with the resolve of Coordinator Seny Lamah, witness herself to the possibility of defeating AIDS and changing one’s life by working in the service of the sick and most vulnerable.
Interviewed by state media, she encouraged everyone and especially women through her own story to renounce fear of the disease: “when I met DREAM and my daughter was born healthy, I understood that everything can change and that we shouldn’t be afraid”.
“Raising awareness amongst people is crucial. We will help you spread the news of this center”, Mayor El Hadj Alseny Bangoura stated, proud to be hosting the health center in his municipality.
A new agreement was signed on 15 March between the Japanese Embassy and the Community of Sant’Egidio for the construction of a new DREAM center in the city of Dubreka, located about 60 kilometers from the country’s capital, Conakry. The suburban area of Conakry is undergoing an intensive urban development program which is slowly enveloping the city in the urban fabric.
Rent prices are very high, leading many people to look for a home further away from Conakry’s city center. Consequently, the prefecture of Dubreka, which is mainly a rural area, is witnessing a high population growth. DREAM began working in the prefecture of Dubreka seven years ago, when the decision was made to rent and renovate a small building thanks to a small contribution by UNAIDS. The UNAIDS project was started with the intent of providing about 30 HIV+ women with the prevention program impeding the mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus. It slowly grew larger, encompassing 300 patients who are currently being treated free of charge by DREAM. The small center was inaugurated in September 2011 by the Première Dame and met with local celebrations.
The center currently opens once a week and is part of a network of “satellite” centers built by DREAM to reach patients which reside far from Conakry’s center (a second center can be found in the prefecture of Coyah, and another inside the maternity ward in the Matoto neighborhood in Conakry). These centers can benefit from the work of the molecular biology laboratory, located in the main center in Conakry, which includes the daily transport of blood samples and mobile medical teams who guarantee the same consultation and drug delivery standards found in all of the centers.
The wish to strengthen DREAM’s presence in these areas and particularly in Dubreka can be achieved by building this new center, assuring increased stability and daily presence to the local patients.
The center will be built on a plot which was bought a few years ago thanks to a donation and which was awaiting support in order to begin construction. The signing of the agreement marks the start of this project, which is expected to be completed within the next 12 months.
The ceremony, which took place in the residence of Ambassador Hisanobu Hasama, saw the participation of a few representatives of the institutions which accompanied DREAM’s story in Dubreka and in Guinea in general: the UNAIDS representative in Guinea, Dr. Dado Syd Gnakassi, the representative of the Première Dame Foundation, Mme. Traoré, the segretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Guinea and the coordinator of the National program for the taking charge of HIV/AIDS representing the Ministry of Health. It was an occasion to thank who, in their own way, supported DREAM in its efforts to offer a free quality treatment especially to the people living farthest from the capital. Special thanks went to the Episcopal Conference of Italy for its contribution to the DREAM program over these years, the Eight per thousand and the Papal Foundation, as well as the state of Japan for this new collaboration
Relations with the country have strengthened also following the projects launched in Mozambique through the Japanese Embassy in Maputo, which allowed the construction of the health center in Matola dedicated to women, while the construction of a new DREAM center in the neighborhood of Zimpeto is almost completed.
DREAM has been present in Guinea for more than 10 years in the fight against AIDS. DREAM’s approach has always been to put the patient first, man and woman not as a disease, but as a person, each with their own needs and characteristics. The treatment of AIDS and its subsequent related diseases has allowed many people to understand how it is possible to live a good life even with AIDS, and women to give birth to healthy children and to preserve their energy in order to take care of them. The focus on women is a priority for many reasons, both because they are the first victims of the disease (more than half of the patients are women), and also because through her, most aware of the responsibility towards her family, it is possible to reach the family unit, the children and finally the partners.
From this mutual focus on women’s health an alliance with the Veronesi Foundation emerged, which allowed the training of a specialized doctor for diagnosing breast cancer and the obtaining of an ultrasound machine, equipped with probes suitable also for other tests.
Diagnostics in Guinea is expensive and hard to come by. Therefore in view of DREAM 2.0, the doctors working in the DREAM centers had the chance to work with the machine and open new opportunities of offering their patients more possibilities of diagnosis and treatment.
After having verified the conditions of the ultrasound machine, all doctors working in the center were recruited for a theoretical and practical course on the machine.
The procedure included a pre- and post-test to evaluate the impact of the theoretical presentation, but above all the interest towards this innovative form of diagnostics in our centers.
There was great enthusiasm and, after a thorough explanation of the device, everybody has the chance to personally test its use both in the role of operators and patients.
This brief course was enough to highlight how frequent are thyroid problems in Guinea. In fact in the screening carried out during the course, of two members of the personnel familiar with thyroid problems, one is positive and one is negative to the presence of alterations. Training for the use of this diagnostics device will continue over the next months, focusing especially on the screening of female cancer.
DREAM 2.0 continues to expand its diagnostics capability for the overall handling of patients, with the best devices and thanks to the support of expert partners such as the Veronesi Foundation.
The whole world celebrates Earth Day, but this year in particular it coincided with the ratification of the Paris Agreement, which had been agreed upon during the UN’s Climate Change Conference in December.
Even though there is plenty of work left to be done, for the protection of our environment and the reduction of pollution, Guinea has already made significant steps; focusing primarily on clean energy and investing in hydro-electric enery. Even DREAM, with its minimal funds and resources, always tries to find ways to make its activities always more environmentally conscious and respectful. Thanks to the financing of a private italian business, Sig. Daldosso, DREAM was able to install a 32 KW solar-panel. The panel works in such a way that first the sun strikes the panel, this solar energy is then stored in batteries so that the use of the diesel generator is only a last resort.
This opens a large economy in the use of diesel fuel, which the poor funds of DREAM are very thankful for, but also improve the air we all breathe. Less burning fuels entails less CO2 and other harmful gases in the air and a diminishing need to extract fossil fuels .
2015 has been the hottest year since 1880, when the temperatures started to be recorded. Hotter than the previous record set by 2014.
It won by quite a margin, and for the first time the global temperature is 1°C higher than the one recorded in the preindustrial era. Furthermore the WMO stated that this trend has not stopped in the first months of 2016. It is likely that this will soon lead to 2016 breaking a new record.
What shocks the most is the speed of climate change caused by global warming. Many different causes are involved but human activity, as Pope Francis reminds us, is surely one of the main ones.
‘There is a very solid scientific consensus indicating that we are witnessing a disturbing increase in the temperature of the climatic system. In recent decades this increase has been accompanied by a rise in sea level and seemingly, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon, by an increase of extreme weather events. Humanity is called to recognize the need to change lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to fight this continuous warming or at least the human causes which create or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variation in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific researches indicate that most of global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.’ [Laudato si’–23]
The results are seen all over the world and at DREAM we can clearly see them in Africa.
Scarce or badly distributed rain brings devastation and hunger.
Many African countries are at food risk also due to the drastic climate change. We have seen it and we are seeing it also this year in Malawi, a country with which we feel very close.
The energy production sector, among the others, has been accused of contributing to global warming and is suffering from its consequences.
Last October Tanzania had to stop for the first time all its hydroelectric plants. Not because they needed maintenance, but due to the lack of water in the basins. A sudden and significative drop of the national production of energy (35% in just a few days) has left vast areas of the country in the dark for many hours each day.
In the neighboring Malawi things did not go any better. Among the consequences caused by the cut in electricity due to the lack of production, there are those regarding healthcare. The already critical operating conditions of the healthcare structures and the hospitals are facing a difficult situation due to continuous blackouts. The stop of vital devices, the impossibility of doing laboratory diagnostics and the stop of the operating rooms have also caused deaths.
Africa is growing and so are the expectations of the African population, both urban and rural. Africa is more and more in need of energy. Possibly green and produced by renewable sources, and it must not deal with the problem in an aggressive and thoughtless way, typical of the countries of the old industrialization.
The DREAM program of the Community of Sant’Egidio continues on its path to decrease the environmental impact of its healthcare centers.
Thanks to a few sponsors, the project started 4 years ago in Malawi continues also this year in Guinea, in Conakry.
Mr. Franco Dal Dosso, an Italian businessman in the sportswear and fashion sector, has made a dream possible, one which has been for many years put aside: the installation of solar panels at the DREAM center in Dixinn, Conakry.
The experience achieved in the past few years and the collaboration with another Italian company, Riello-Aros Solar Division, has led us to install in Conakry the same “hybrid” technology experimented with success in Malawi.
The 30 kW produced by solar panels supply the essential services (testing laboratory, PC network, ICT services, warehouses, drugs and reagents, freezers and the air system) in the DREAM health center. The Aros Solar system handles the different energy sources: FV panels, batteries package, cities network, diesel generator. Although the sun is clearly the priority. When there is no sun or it is not sufficient, the system automatically takes the energy from the other available sources, leaving the diesel generator as the last choice.
The technical cooperation in loco with AMC Guinée, that managed the installation of the system, has been a pleasant surprise. Under the supervision of DREAM’s technicians, the job was fast and accurate. The first test is rarely the good one, but the system installed at DREAM in Conakry surprised us all: connected, switched on … it’s working!!
After the first month of monitoring the system, the results were more than satisfactory. The reduction in the use of the diesel generator was close to 80% and there was a proportional reduction in the use of diesel. An initial comparison with the previous data, when the solar plant started working, showed a more than 5.000kg/per month reduction of the emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
About thirty people meet under a paillote to talk and listen. Some are Christian, most of them are Muslim. They have known each other for years and they are friends. They are mostly women. Once a month some of them visit a prison in the suburbs where about one hundred men are clumped together in a single room. When they manage to find clothes or food they bring some to them, but they often find themselves empty-handed. So they pass by for a friendly visit, to say hello, to collect telephone numbers of distant or oblivious relatives who do not know of their conditions, to weave broken bonds. Others regularly visit a group of children in a small orphanage, also located in the suburbs. It hosts about thirty children, among whom some are HIV-positive.
They are not rich. Some of them actually have very complicated stories coming from poverty, but most of all from the disease which represents even here a further reason for women to suffer from marginalization and stigma. But they do not seem neither sick nor sad. The undersecretary of foreign affairs and long standing member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Mario Giro, visited Guinea and met with these women, in the DREAM center in Conakry.
The conversation begins with their lives and their experiences, but it later extends to the big topics of coexisting among different ethnic groups and religions. Important topics, which affect the everyday life of everybody. In the capital’s neighborhoods, where Christians and Muslims live side by side, stories are heard of war, migrations and attacks. A few days ago another “brother state” was the victim of an attack, carried out by three young kids, who were barely twenty years old that left 30 dead. “You can no longer go to Europe if your name is Ousmane or Fatoumata, you need to change your name…they don’t want Muslims over there”. They narrate about a mild discomfort, as if the winds of violence were blowing, but were muffled also in this country by a rooted tradition of coexistence, which is not always easy. And the question that comes to mind is a fundamental one: what is it that divides? There is just one God for everybody. It is almost like entering a theological terrain and discussing what it is that defines the great monotheistic religions.
Stories, wishes and feelings overlap under the paillote of the DREAM center.
There is a great wish to understand, to listen carefully, but also to testify a friendship that can go beyond diffidence and diversity. It is already a reality faced and tackled together on a daily basis when treating the sick, Christians, Animists, Muslims, Peul, Soussou or Kissi, abandoned women – also those hidden by a thick black veil, showing only the eyes – orphans and teenagers who wish for a “normal” future, even if they are sick.
At the Christmas lunch there is a feeling of affection and happiness in seeing a little boy who has his eyes wide open looking at the gift containing his first pair of shoes, or from the gratitude coming from the prisoner who this year finally managed to eat some meat.
The experience of your own weakness being accepted and healed when you find out about your disease, or the moment when you find yourself alone because of it; a place such as the DREAM center of the Community of Sant’Egidio becoming everyone’s home; the awareness of the fact that your own life is still long and that it is useful not only for yourself but for others too; the conscience of not being alone…all of this jointly continues to bring people together with their personal stories, culture, religion and different ethnicities.
It is a path that seems too simple to many, the path of friendship, of respecting different faiths, of equity and of rights (to health, culture, dignity), but it is a path accessible to everyone. Regardless of the level of education or economic situation. It is the dialogue, curious and respectful of others, that can be held everyday on the streets and in neighborhoods.
The women of DREAM want to and can preserve peace and coexistence for a peaceful Guinea that sees in coexistence the key to a possible future and finds in women an unexpected strength.