Africa the old-fashioned way

"Africa the old-fashioned way" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2002," Dec. 7, 2002

A normal day for Dr. Bransford begins at six o'clock with morning rounds. He returns to his home, a short climb in thin air, for breakfast with his family before beginning a full day of surgery. Mondays through Wednesdays he performs surgery, while Thursday and Friday are reserved for overseeing 13 mobile clinics. On the Tuesday WORLD visited, 12 patients by midmorning were recovering from cleft lip and cleft palate procedures. Eighteen refugees, mostly Somalis, from a UN camp at Dadaab had arrived the night before and were prepped or already recuperating from procedures. In his spare time Dr. Bransford tinkers in a prosthetics workshop. It more resembles a blacksmith shop for its primitive tools and implements, but technicians there probably make more leg braces than any place in Kenya. Dr. Bransford also takes time away to work in Sudan, where he teaches battlefield medicine and operates along the way.

When the UN announced a year ago that it could no longer cover the costs of refugee medical care at Bethany, Dr. Bransford decided to pay them himself. He diverted some of his own support through Africa Inland Mission, cajoled Christian relief groups in Sudan to help out, and pressed pharmaceuticals and medical colleagues in the United States. He lobbied Washington, but only the private sources helped in the end. "I could find the money. That was not the issue. It is cooperation from the bureaucracy that is so hard. In a short period of time these people will be out of our reach medically. We just have a window of opportunity here," he said.

The UN, never good at notifying him of refugees it was sending to Bethany, suddenly stopped sending them altogether in October, even though Dr. Bransford was covering all costs but transportation. When Dr. Bransford inquired, UN health coordinator Mohamed Qassim informed him that "medical referrals of all elective cases has [sic] been temporarily suspended."

Despite the hard challenges of working with the UN bureaucracy, Dr. Bransford says he is grateful everyday for the way refugees overrun his hospital. The refugee patients, he says, in many cases represent unreached people groups. "We have been praying for Somalis for decades. But when famine came, the door opened. We could not go into their territory, but with famine and war, they came out to us."

Treating them has given the surgeon fresh appreciation for the advantages of private-sector funding. "Know anyone at Lily?" he quizzes, certain that he can procure expensive medicine from the pharmaceutical giant faster than it will arrive through government channels. The smiles in the recovery room are daily reassurances that private charity can succeed, whether the vision begins in a stadium or a brimming surgery ward.

-Joel C. Rosenberg interviewed Bruce Wilkinson for this article


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