A humanitarian group founded by a Turkish doctor is helping thousands of Africans to get the best medical care possible.
Dr. Bilgehan Guntekin established the All Friends of Africa (TADD) so he would be able to help Africans in every aspect of life.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Guntekin said he volunteered to go to the Central African nation of Chad in October 2014 and was deeply touched by the conditions he saw there. The multidimensional problems in the continent inspired him to found the group, he added.
Before going to Chad, Guntekin was influenced by an iconic photo, taken by late South African photographer Kevin Carter, showing the horrific effects of the 1993 famine in Sudan.
“I was touched by Kevin Carter’s photo in South Sudan of a vulture waiting for a child to die… That’s the end of human civilization, I thought,” he said.
“I examined and treated patients in Chad for 10 days. I tried to help them as much as possible,” he added.
Saying that he examined thousands of patients during his 10-day stay, Guntekin added: “The number of patients coming was very huge. We worked in difficult conditions, it was 45 degrees, the health center had a dirt floor, and there was no electricity, we were working with generators.
“There were no modern medical devices in the hospitals, we got all the equipment from Turkey. When patients thanked, and I would say to them, ‘Please pray for us.’
“Besides all the problems and poverty, the people were very happy and self-reliant. I watched them eating, seven people gathered around a plate and they all ate together, yet they don’t complain about their situation.
“When we went there, we took candies for the children, and our friends told us, ‘Open the candies when you give them to the kids, they might be seeing candy for the first time in their lives’. One day after I examined a 3-year-old kid, I pointed to the candies for him to take some, and his father said he should take only one. The child took one and left quietly. They are very disciplined.”
Guntekin told how sad he got when he learned that Chad has only one ear, nose, and throat doctor in the entire country. The area of Chad is one-and-a-half times bigger than Turkey — with a population less than one-third — but it only has two gynecologists, three pediatricians, and eight eye specialists.
– Healthcare woes
Guntekin explained that Africa has great problems in access to health care.
”We recently organized a healthcare package in Ethiopia’s Afar region. With between 5 and 6 million residents, the central hospital has only one general surgeon, one gynecologist, and an internal specialist, and they don’t even stay at the hospital. They’re called to the examination rooms whenever they’re needed.
“We examined and treated more than 200 patients a day, and security guards worked so hard to keep the patients in line. We used all the drugs we brought over. Clean water, doctors, and medicines aren’t easily available in Africa.
“It’s like life is over when you travel 50-100 kilometers away from the cities. When people hear the news ‘foreigners, doctors have come,’ people walked 300 or 400 kilometers to reach our help.”
Emphasizing that Africa could be self-sufficient, Guntekin said the infrastructure should be bolstered, as connections to health centers is important. More hospitals should be built and should advance the skills of their own health personnel, he urged.
Guntekin stated that his group was founded to tackle all kinds of troubles in Africa, but as half of its members are physicians, they are focusing on health care in particular.
Besides health care, the TADD has dug water wells, distributed live livestock, created model farming areas, and provided training on agriculture in Africa.
On their work in Turkey, Guntekin said: “We offer scholarships for African students in Turkey. We try to help them find job opportunities and internships here. We also brief businesspeople about the opportunities in Africa. We advocate that our people travel more and invest in Africa.
“We’re working closely with our African brothers and sisters who are already in the field of medicine, we’re trying hard to make sure they are well trained so that they can push their own health sector to be better.”
Guntekin concluded by saying: “The whole world owes a debt to Africa. If God is going to hold us accountable in the hereafter, will he be questioning us and them on the same ledger?”