(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tragic Landing in Kinshasa

For the last few months we'd been planning to bring in a senior reproductive health adviser from our Congo country office to conduct some workshops on clinical management of rape. While we have a rather robust gender-based violence sector (now called Women's Protection and Empowerment), we don't have a health program. What is critically missing in this country, one of many things, is the linkage between providing counseling and support for women who have been victims of violence and the potential health care necessary as a result of the violence. It's a relatively complex situation that can bring devastating consequences if handled poorly.

While in Tanzania we did have a health care operation in the refugee camps – actually a rather large one when I was there. We had four health centers (one in each of the camps), clinical officers, nurses, etc. etc. We also had a pretty strong GBV program as well but we constantly had to work on the linkage between the two in support for survivors of these violent attacks. As time went by we expanded that effort to the surrounding communities such that this remote part of the country, the region hosting the refugee camps, would benefit from our expertise in spite of being a particularly neglected area of the country (there were some bad consequences for Tanzanians subjected to living near the refugee camps which were imposed on them but there were also some benefits).

A week ago Monday a Bombardier CRJ-200 left Goma in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo headed for the capital, Kinshasa, in the western part of the country. It was a UN plane carrying passengers that were mostly aid workers and peace keepers working in the DRC. Thirty-two of the thirty-three passengers died. One of the passengers, sadly enough, was the man who we'd been working with to come and spend two weeks carrying out these workshops.

Dr. Boubacar Toure was due to arrive in Bujumbura the following Sunday and I was to meet with him on Monday. Dr. Toure, "Bouba" as he's known and as I'd come to know him in emails, was a 63-year-old native of Guinea and an internationally recognized leader in the maternal health field. He was deeply committed to reversing high levels of maternal mortality in Congo and other countries where he has worked. He oversaw an extensive reproductive health care program in four war-impacted provinces. He is survived by his wife, Salamantou, four children and one grand-child.

It's been a sad time for my colleagues in the DRC and a sad time for all the families and friends of those impacted by the crash. Given the nature of the work and the sometimes harsh conditions of aid work, it's surprising how rare such accidents are. But in my opinion, the pilots in sub-Saharan Africa are some of the most amazing on the planet. We had several pilot friends in Tanzania and though they had some crazy stories of close calls and questionable flying conditions, they all seemed to be great at what they do and possessed a considerable respect for their fellow aviators. In the many dozens of hours I've had flying in small and large planes here, I've never felt in danger - at least nothing REAL serious. There was, I suppose, that tire blowout landing in Dar es Salaam flying from Kigoma a while back which could have been ugly. In general, though, I've been impressed with the quality of air travel here – certainly compared to what I had expected before I came. It's not clear if the Kinshasa accident was preventable or not but that won't change things for Bouba and the 31 others. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends.

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