Happy New Year to you dear readers! It’s a new year and we promise to bring you more interviews featuring inspiring young Cameroonians to affirm our mutual hope that tomorrow’s Cameroon will indeed be better than today. In this first feature of the year, we shine the limelight on Dr. Sangwe Clovis Nchinjoh, also known as The Rural Doctor. Enjoy the interview we had with him below.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I am a passionate Rural health care physician, humanitarian, and a servant leader with a track record of leadership. Besides my medical practice, I am the founder and team leader of a non-profit organization called Rural Doctors and have a board role at the Cameroon Civil Society NCDs Alliance. During my off-duty time, I provide antenatal care and other services to pregnant women where there is poor access to health care services. I love volunteerism! I have volunteered for the ministry of public health and Doctors without Borders as cholera treatment unit supervisor and medical referent in cholera epidemics; volunteered as a member of the littoral Regional Delegation Epidemic Rapid Response and Investigation Team; and coordinated mass district public health interventions such as vaccination campaigns in hard-to-reach communities as an Interim District Medical Officer in Manoka Health District. I am presently on a scholarship to study International Master of Public Health at Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.
You founded Rural Doctors, tell us about that journey; from idea conception to establishment.
It was not a decision taken in a day. Series of events and experiences led to the creation of Rural Doctors. I will try to summarize in a bit.
Following my graduation in 2017 from the University of Buea, I started my career in a Catholic Hospital where I earned quite enough to save up and cater for my family. After several traumatizing experiences due to the sociopolitical crisis in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon, I decided to quit my job and relocate. I remember waking up one day alone in an entire neighborhood. I was told everyone else slept in church or neighboring villages that night (apparently, there were gunshots in the middle of the night). I left the theatre very late that day, I was so tired I heard nothing. For my sanity, I decided to leave. At that time, it was impossible to carry furniture or heavy luggage. So I abandoned all I had (but for my certificates of course). I arrived in Douala with enough clothes that can fit in a “SACKS AND MOTORS” bag. I could adapt quite fast because I had colleagues who helped out. I had seen and witnessed suffering and now had lived one as an internally displaced person. I decided that day to help as many displaced persons as I could.
Then came posting. I was posted to Manoka district Hospital – a location which even google map had no idea how to get there. Had to spend over 2 hours on water from Douala to get to work. Life in Manoka is a story for another day. It is a subdivision with over 47 islands and a single health facility. I received a pregnant lady who presented at near death with heavy bleeding at term. She could only arrive at the hospital after more than 24 hours because of difficulties in traveling by water at night. She had never undergone antenatal health care and so this complication could not be anticipated. When she survived this, I decided to help women like her by going to them instead. So during my off-duty time, I offer free door-to-door basic antenatal health care services including obstetric ultrasound and provision of blood medications (haematinics) to pregnant women in those remote islands.
The more I visited these communities, the more I identified other health challenges. I realized that I could not do this alone. The challenges were too many for one man to handle. So I decided to inspire others to join me in serving the displaced and persons in remote rural communities by posting pictures of my work on social media (I tweet a lot!) and later on created the non-profit called Rural Doctors. The main office today is in Bunduma, Buea. It has permanent and part-time staff with over 100 volunteers in different regions in Cameroon. Together we have provided free health care services to over 2000 internally displaced persons and poor and vulnerable persons especially pregnant women and enhanced COVID-19 prevention in war-torn communities.
What specific problems are currently being addressed by Rural Doctors in the communities in which they operate?
Rural Doctors is focused on building and strengthening sustainable community disease prevention and response in poor rural settings and providing lifesaving health care to poor and vulnerable groups. During this pandemic, we have been mostly involved in enhancing COVID-19 prevention in war-torn communities in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon.
What challenges are faced by the Rural Doctors’ team in the course of their work and how are these being addressed?
Our biggest limitation is finances and material resources. We are currently more engaged in grant writing to raise funds for our projects.
What should we look out for from Rural Doctors in the future?
We consider our current work and activities in Cameroon as pilot (that is, initial) work. We hope to be able to impact communities on a larger scale not just in Cameroon but in Sub-Saharan Africa in the next 5-10years. We are building a strong network of selfless volunteers in as many communities of interest as possible.
What current plans/projects are you involved in which our readers should be aware of?
We have a couple of upcoming projects which can not be disclosed right now but the closest has to do with fighting malnutrition and anemia among under 5 children and pregnant women in Tole in the South West Region. We think that the crisis may have worsened their state so we hope to build community resilience in using local resources to prevent malnutrition and anaemia and manage already diagnosed cases.
What are your ambitions?
There will always be natural and/or man-made crises, whether epidemics or war or some impact of climate change… what makes the difference is our preparedness to act appropriately in mitigating the effects. It is my ambition to build a career in crisis and disaster management and community-based infection prevention and control in humanitarian settings. I see myself in the next 5-10 years running an internationally recognized non-profit (Rural Doctors), which helps to build resilience and preparedness in vulnerable or rural and remote communities and serve the poor and vulnerable when the need arises. I also hope to serve in other International Organizations to learn and contribute to solving the world’s top health challenges.
What challenges did/do you face in the course of your work? What strategies did you design to address this?
Among colleagues especially following graduation, it is embarrassing talking about practice in “bush” places. You know… there is no class in that. So it was very difficult to build a team. I decided to use social media. I got a branding company to produce some gadgets for me which labels me as “The Rural Doctor”. I used it online to make practice in poor settings look attractive and interesting. It yielded great results, today we have permanent and part-time staff with over 100 volunteers in different Regions in Cameroon.
At the beginning of my work, I was not really bothered about sustainability. It was just me trying to serve the vulnerable for my own sake and then inspiring others to do the same. So in the early stages most of the finances required were from my personal funds with support from family and friends. When I decided to make it an organization the need became very heavy for individuals to bear. So we shared our work frequently online and got support from individuals and organizations.
Tell us about some of the achievements you have had with Rural Doctors and as an individual which you are most proud of.
Two (2) years and counting following my displacement from my well-paid job, no paydays for me yet, but I have been able to offer free health care to over 2000 vulnerable persons including internally displaced persons, provided free antenatal care and delivery-related services to over 100 pregnant women… several health promotion activities with impact on thousands of individuals through my non-profit called Rural Doctors. I am most proud of the fact that in my own little way, I have inspired many young health care providers to serve humanity. Back in school, I founded a non-profit association (The Medicz) in 2013, aimed at inspiring health-inclined students to identify health challenges in vulnerable communities and impact change. Through this initiative, over 250 health-oriented students were empowered and every summer holidays we invited medical doctors to join us in our free 7 days health campaigns for the poor and vulnerable in rural communities. I live these moments every day in my heart. They are priceless!
What do you think our Cameroonian youth need to know/do to be the Better Breed?
It is a tough world out there but it should not take away our humanity. We all need each other. It doesn’t always have to look big for it to be a humanitarian gesture. I started off just doing free clinical consultations, meeting vulnerable persons and discussing with them, carrying out free door to door antenatal care. You see, it cost me very little. The challenges I faced inspired me to create Rural Doctors, a nonprofit. Just focus on solving a problem no matter how small and it will inspire you to create or be a part of a great cause you never even imagined.