There is one doctor for every 30,000 people in Niger, one of the lowest ratios worldwide.
But such statistics inspire doctors Tony Mwenyemali and Yakoubou Sanoussi, both of whom turned down lucrative job offers elsewhere after discerning a call to practice missionary medicine in Niger. Mwenyemali and Sanoussi work with Christian nonprofit Serving in Mission, which operates two of the nation's most renowned hospitals.
For decades, Danja Hospital has run a highly effective program to prevent and treat leprosy. Soon Danja will open a center to repair obstetric fistula, an injury that can occur during childbirth.
Currently Mwenyemali, 33, is in nearby Cameroon, his home country, for additional training in surgery. "Every young doctor or young man would love to work in a place that looks attractive," Mwenyemali said. "But I wanted to come to the place where God had called me to go." With programs for leprosy and fistula, Danja will provide a level of medical care that is normally unavailable in rural areas.
West of Danja is Galmi Hospital, open since the 1950s and still operating in its original building. Sanoussi, 43, is one of two surgeons at the famous missionary hospital. He left Niger for medical school but chose to return and work amid the outdated surgical equipment and overflowing wards nearly 300 miles from Niamey.
"I sensed a call to be part of this work that heals people's spiritual as well as physical health," he said. "This is a place where people find comfort."
Sanoussi grew up in a Christian home. When he was 16, his 1-year-old brother contracted measles and died on his mother's back as they waited at a hospital for medical treatment. Because of that, Sanoussi decided to become a doctor. "I have had opportunities to work in other countries, but my heart is with my people."
Each day, Sanoussi tours the 110-bed hospital. On the day Christianity Today visited, his patients included a woman whose face and body had been severely burned. "We don't have strength to survive without the Lord," Sanoussi said. "He gives strength to continue in spite of challenges."
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
This story is a sidebar to "Pushing Back the Desert: Niger's Christians Get Creative for Daily Bread."
Previous Christianity Today stories related to Niger, Africa, or hunger include:
Christian History Corner: The African Lion Roars in the Western Church | Anglican liberals are fretting, conservatives rejoicing, and all are scrambling to their history books: whence this new evangelical force on the world scene? (June 1, 2003)
Hunger Isn't History | The world produces more food than ever. So why do nearly a billion people still not have enough to eat? (November 7, 2008)
A Hand Up: Aid for Trade in Mozambique | Faith-based model teaches rural poor how to use trade to rise out of poverty. (July 8, 2010)
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