Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Small Russian Israel under Guinean Sun

Today, the super-modern building of La Paz Hospital in Malabo and Bata may stun only foreign tourists, if it may stun anyone at all. Earlier it was all different. You get used to good things fast, and there are, perhaps, only a few locals left who remember that this territory was covered by dense rainforests just some 20 years ago.

"This is in fact a healthcare center", tells Mikhail Averbukh, the CEO of La Paz Hospital, located in Sipopo, a suburb of the capital. In this case, remoteness is nothing but an advantage: the hospital with a hotel for guests is a stone's throw from the ocean, free bus brings people from the city and back twice a day. "For the time being, there are two hospitals functioning - here and in Bata. Two more are under construction. The whole country is under construction. You can watch it growing from scratch. This is fascinating. When I left Israel for Africa a year ago, I expected something completely different."

Mikhail Averbukh speaks perfect Russian. Like most La Paz doctors, he was born in the former Soviet Union, that is why locals often call La Paz a "Russian Hospital."

In a nutshell, the story of Equatorial Guinea is as follows: this tiny country had bad luck from the very start. To begin with, it was colonized not by England or France, but by Spain. The Spaniards, who were primarily busy with imports of cocoa and timber, did not care to invest a dime in the infrastructure, but kept a watchful eye on the locals demanding they should be prudent Catholics who should not profess an alien religion. As a result, by the time the country  proclaimed independence, the "African Cinderella" (as it was once called by a journalist) was virtually at the primeval level of development without roads, hospitals and populated by beggarly illiterate people. The Spaniards even failed to discover shale oil, which had been looked for on behalf of the government. Luckily, the oil deposits were discovered by Americans, and now the Guinean GDP per capita is almost as high as that in Spain - about $30,000.

Today, the experience of Equatorial Guinea is illustrative of the fact that there can be enough room under the sun for everybody even in such a tiny country, given a prudent approach. Americans, French, Chinese, Lebanese, Turkish, Moroccan... And, of course, Israelis.

La Paz Hospital was founded by famous Israeli businesswoman Jardene Ovadia, a legendary woman with tremendous willpower and energy, as she is referred to in Africa. "This woman is better than a dozen of men", said Mikhail Averbukh. "Look up at the picture. This is also her idea".

We are in a tomography room. The picture on the ceiling is a photo magnified several times and lit from behind. Crowns of palm trees against the navy blue sky. A man would lie on the couch, see a usual picture and would not be scared at the surroundings. The picture really works: doctors tell that many people, especially elderly villagers, feel at a loss, to put it mildly, as they first appear at hospital.

There is no need to enumerate all the amenities, it is just enough to say that La Paz Hospital is equipped to the highest European standards. The construction of the healthcare center was financed by the government of Equatorial Guinea, while the medical personnel is from Israel. The government also finances nurse training in Israel.

"We have committed ourselves to bringing Western technologies and methods to Africa and make them stay here", the CEO said. "We are just at the starting point, however, something has already been done. You see, wards, modern medication and equipment is not the biggest challenge. You can build a good hospital in just a year. To change the mentality of people and teach them to care for their health is much more difficult".

There is a full range of infectious diseases known to modern science in Equatorial Guinea. Many people in the country still take their life and health for granted as something out of their control. They can go to a village healer and count on luck. The cases, when a sick person is taken to hospital in the condition when medicine is helpless, are not rare. Such cases with children, who get infected almost in the first hours after birth, are especially frequent.

At times, parents refuse to leave their child at hospital saying they have no money.

"We've recently virtually forced a woman with a child to stay", tells Mikhail Averbukh. "She said, she had no money. No matter how hard we tried to convince her that we need no money from her, she never believed".

As for money, only Spanish papers write that the majority of the population sustain themselves for one dollar a day (the price of a chocolate bar, or a can of Coca-Cola in local shops). Meanwhile, La Paz wards are always full, and not with oil tycoons, but with common people.

The treatment here is paid, but quite affordable for an average Guinean. Appendectomy costs $300. Pregnancy care and birth - $400. Full examination - $200. It is worth noting that the government pays 50% of all costs in maternity and childhood cases.

We saw a baby, who weighed 500 g as it was born. The chances to survive are fifty-fifty even in Israel. Nevertheless, doctors hope the baby will live.

Anyways, by and by people come to realization that their health is in their hands. When the local radio announced that La Paz Hospital gives free vaccination against hepatitis, only a few people came on the first day. As they made sure this was not fraud, the numbers of clients were growing by leaps and bounds in the following days.

Next time, the center invited a famous plastic surgeon from Germany and gave announcement on the radio: everyone who had lower jaw problems was welcome to La Paz for free. A lot of people came, but most of them came with dental problems. There are teeth growing in the lower jaw, aren't there? No problem, mean what you say!

Today, there are 100 grown-ups, 17 children and 1 dog in the Israeli community of Sipopo.

Soon it will expand further, as the day when the Guineans are treated by only Guinean doctors is still far. 

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