COVID19 in Burkina Faso – The testimony of Fr. Paul Ouedraogo

Who is and where he operates? 

We continue our journey to Africa to understand how our communities are responding to the COVID19 emergency. Today we stop in Burkina Faso, where we interviewed Fr. Paul OUEDRAOGO, Camillian, pediatrician, and Director of the Saint Camillus Hospital in Ouagadougou.

Fr. Paul studied medicine at the Catholic University of Rome and specialized in pediatrics at the University of Brescia.

My specific field is neonatology,” explains P. Paul. “I work together with other brethren, Fr. Cestin Sebastien Pouya Superior and a nurse specialized in Otorhinolaryngology, Fr. Isidor Bandaogo, hospital treasurer, Fr. Luc Zongo, pharmacist, Fr. Bakorba Pascal, nurse specialized in ophthalmology, Fr. Marius Belemgnere, head of the laboratory, Fr. Paul Kabore, a nurse specializing in radiology techniques and coordinator of the Hospital’s Treatment Units, Fr. Henri Nitiema, surgeon, Fr. Etienne Nabolle, provincial bursar and head of the optical service, Fr. Jacques Simpore, head of research, Fr. Salvatore Pignatelli, pediatrician, and Fr. Marius Soussango, hair surgeon. »

The hospital in Ouagadougou has 200 beds. It specializes in emergency medicine (pediatric and adult first aid), general medicine, general and specialized surgery, drepanocytosis, pediatrics and neonatology, gynecology, preventive medicine, pharmacy, radiology with also CT and MRI scans, spiritual assistance, social service to help needy patients and family support.

The hospital also receives 900 patients a day for various outpatient visits. There are 401 permanent employees and 100 external employees (service providers). The central government supports the hospital by paying the salary of 50 employees. There is also an agreement between the hospital and the Ministry of Health for the application of national health policies.

What is the current situation in the country, how many cases of COVID have been established?

On April 26 in Burkina Faso, we had 632 positive cases, of which 252 women and 380 men with a sex ratio of 1.51. Nine out of 13 health regions were affected, 20 out of 45 health districts. The average age of the cases is 47.9 years, with patients aged 2 to 93 years. There are 42 reported deaths with an average age of 60.9. 58% of COVID 19 deaths are over 60 years old.

Did you have aggressive pneumonia before the virus outbreak?

Yes, since December 2019, we have been receiving, even in the hospital, some forms of influenza syndromes worsened in pneumonia with visible X-ray interstitiopathy. These pneumonia have been treated with ordinary protocols. The months of December and January in Burkina are the months with the highest rate of flu, and the first thought was to cases of seasonal pneumonia. And we treated them as such.

What measures have you taken?

Burkina Faso officially declared the first cases on March 9, 2020. They were a couple of Protestant pastors (husband and wife) who had participated in a gathering in Mulhouse, France and had returned to the country in contact with their faithful. The second outbreak was that of the diplomatic world with the Italian and American ambassadors, who tested positive. Subsequently, the cases were also found in religious communities, including two bishops and some parish priests.  Shortly afterward, the virus spread to the population of Ouaga, especially to Bobo.

What was done in the hospital?

At the hospital, as soon as we heard about the first cases in West Africa, we started to prepare ourselves. In particular, we held four training courses for staff on Covid19 and gave indications for protection inpatient care.

We have also adopted some restrictive measures: mandatory mask for all people who were operating or who, for various reasons, are present in the hospital (relatives, patients, and employees); hand sanitization already at the entrance of the hospital and in front of each ward; safety distances of at least 1 meter.

The Red Cross of Burkina Faso, with the support of the Principality of Monaco, has donated four field tents, which have been set up near the hospital in front of the major inflow points such as the central cashier, first aid, laboratory, and pharmacy.

We also asked for volunteers to be involved. The Camillians of the Camillian Student and Juvenat Garçon (15 brothers) and 15 students from Saint Thomas d’Aquin University. After training them, we asked them to guard the entrance to the hospital to control access and to make sure that people respect the restrictions and follow the required hygiene rules. They also held small lectures in the lobby to explain to patients the severity of this virus. Their help was essential.

On the hospital’s TV screens we have explanatory programs on COVID19.

From a pharmaceutical point of view, we have produced a hydroalcoholic solution in our pharmacy for the needs of the hospital and the population.  This activity that existed before COVID 19 was implemented by Father Luc in charge of our pharmacy with the support of staff and volunteers.

A delegation of 5 doctors from WHO (WHO) came to visit the hospital to assess our ability to manage patients and give us practical directions to follow.

In addition to preventive actions, we have activated a COVID 19 isolation room in the hospital’s medical department. In this room with four beds, we receive all suspicious cases waiting for the test, proceeding with the ordinary treatment of the case pending diagnostic confirmation.  The positive cases are transferred to the public hospital of Tengandogo where the resuscitation equipment is located.

During this period, we also have the infirmary of the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou available for COVID19 positive priests. We run this ward together with the Camillian Sisters (Sister Madeleine and Soeur Lallogo) and 4 Camillians (Père Isisdor, Père Pascal, Frere Paul, and myself).

What was the response of the population?

At first, the reaction was very frightening. Seeing the many deaths in Western countries, everyone wondered how Africa would react to such a catastrophe. And as always before such situations, the first impulse was to turn to God in prayer.  The Bishops sent a prayer to be recited in families. We Camillians also, through Father François Kientega, wrote and printed a prayer to distribute to everyone free of charge to pray.

What scares me the most?

It frightens the lack of means. In Burkina, there are only 17 CPR respirators for 20 million people. At St. Camillus Hospital, we have 6 beds provided in the resuscitation ward that we finished building in 2018, but so far, we have not been able to equip it due to lack of resources adequately. The lack of masks and other protective devices for the population and hospital staff is also frightening. The government has planned to lock down the country. For the many people who have no work and are struggling to live, this becomes an unbearable burden and creates so much fear for the future.

Are the therapies working? 

Yes, since March 9, we have recorded 453 healings out of 632 positive. Unfortunately, we have the highest mortality rate in West Africa (42 deaths), which means that we are not resilient enough in the treatment of the most severe cases due to probably lack of qualified personnel and sufficient means. The protocol adopted provides for the use of chloroquine hydroxide and clarithromycin.

What’s needed?

Protective masks for staff and the sick. Support for the local production of disinfectants (chlorine solution and hydroalcoholic solution) and the purchase of test material. Also, we must give the possibility to test suspect cases: CERBA has made itself available for this type of analysis, but the coordination center of the Ministry of Health, due to limited resources, has limited access only to priority symptomatic cases. We also need to equip the hospital’s resuscitation service.

The heat and the high number of young people seem to be an advantage to hope for containment of deaths.  But no one can predict what will happen.  In the meantime, it takes a lot of discipline, means, and praying to the Lord to help us.  I thank all the confreres and the hospital staff who spontaneously offered their collaboration to start something concrete immediately in the fight against the pandemic.