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Central African Republic: Diary of a flying watsan
An MSF water and sanitation expert shares entries from the personal diary she kept during her four month assignment
Francesca is responsible for the water supply and the sanitation within a hospital.
The ‘flying’ part of her job means she never stays put for too long:
30 June – Deadly snakes in Zemio
It’s the start of my second assignment with MSF, following a nine month stint in South Sudan. I’ve just arrived in the town of Zemio - my first stop in CAR - where MSF has been running a specialist HIV and maternity hospital for several years.
Zemio is really beautiful – full of lush green trees taller than houses. When I arrive, I’m told it’s the furthest point in Africa from any sea.
Bertrand and I have been working hard to get the job finished before the end of the day. We work well as a team because we have different skills that complement each other. I have a civil engineering background, so I can calculate the number of bricks we need, and he knows how to cement the bricks together to make the incinerator stand up!
21 July – Refugees in Bambarimalaria and was unconscious.
In order to properly clean the hospital, the patients needed to temporarily move outside while we worked.
When I saw this woman struggling to carry her child, my natural instinct was to rush over and help her. I took the child in my arms and we walked together outside. In that moment, I don’t think there’s a human on earth that wouldn’t want to help.
Luckily the little girl is getting better, with the help of the brilliant MSF medical team. With kids of that age, I’m always amazed at how close to death they seem when they arrive, and then barely a few days later they are up and about, laughing and playing in the hospital ward!
10 August: Cholera in Bangui
I have just spent six sleepless nights in Bangui, the capital of CAR, and my penultimate stop before I head home. I’m exhausted, but there has been a small cholera outbreak in a village just outside the city, and it has meant all hands on deck to respond.
Within days of the first confirmed cases, the MSF team had set up a cholera treatment centre (CTC). We worked for 15 hours a day, building the CTC from scratch in a field just outside of Bangui.
In just three days we had built the triage area, isolation unit, treatment area and kitted the CTC out with its own water supply, generator and electricity. We’d wake up as soon as it was light, and we’d work non-stop until seven or eight in the evening under the blazing sun.
It was a dream project for a watsan like me; with cholera, good hygiene stops the spread, so I really felt like I was saving lives, even though I’m not a medic.
16 August: Fixing drains in Bossangoa
I’m in Bossangoa, northwest CAR, and my final stop before I head back to England. MSF is running a massive hospital here with a big inpatient department and an even bigger children’s ward.
If you don’t have proper draining systems in place, water from the hospital becomes stagnant and attracts mosquitoes, which can cause serious cases of malaria and other waterborne diseases. So it’s vital to stop the spread of disease.