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Taking the road less traveled


Medical doctors dedicate their careers to helping refugees.

January 03, 2019
/ Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
/ Penny Brink, contributing writer, Adventist World

Taking the road less traveled

[Photo courtesy of Michael-John Von Hörsten]

What do Greece, Iraq, and Uganda have in common? In recent years these countries, among others, have experienced an influx of refugees that has created a huge need of basic services for displaced people. AdventistHelp,1 a supporting ministry, and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA)2 have partnered in all three of these regions to provide critical medical care. Refugee ministry is becoming a worldwide mission opportunity and changing the landscape for today’s missionaries.

Michael von Hörsten and his older brother, Friedrich,3 both medical doctors, and Hilde and Leah Camacho, a Portuguese medical missionary couple, have pursued the road less traveled when it comes to their careers by providing medical services in refugee camps in all three of the aforementioned countries. Penny Brink, who lives in South Africa and is contracted to Adventist World as a writer and editor, talked to Michael about his experiences.

Tell us about your refugee projects
AdventistHelp started in Greece on the island of Lesbos in 2015 in an emergency-room bus close to the shore where the refugees would land on their boats, and later in Athens by providing medical care to vulnerable refugee communities.

In 2017 we partnered with ADRA Iraq to set up an ADRA field hospital east of the war-torn city of Mosul, providing care to camps of people fleeing the conflict with ISIS. The facility has seen more than 50,000 patients in the past year.

Now we’re going to Uganda, where the refugees  have suffered some of the most horrific human rights abuses and conflicts, and now live in desperate circumstances in vulnerable refugee communities.

Why choose Uganda?

We were invited to Uganda by Charles Aguilar, the ADRA Uganda director, in 2017 to do an assessment for a possible field hospital similar to the one in Iraq. Uganda has the third-highest number of refugees in the world: 1.5 million. One of the biggest gaps in refugee response in the region is in health care.

Why are people specifically seeking refuge in Uganda?

Uganda is a stable, peaceful country shouldered by South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC], two regions with some of the highest rates of ethnic violence in the world. Now with an uptick in violence in the DRC since December 2017, complicated by a food crisis and the additional burden of such infectious diseases as malaria and Ebola with minimal access to health care, thousands of civilians have had to flee into Uganda, seeking a place of safety.

Describe the refugees’ living conditions.

Kyaka 2 Refugee Settlement is one of Uganda’s main receiving areas for new arrivals from eastern DRC. Thousands have arrived in the past few months, many with just the clothes on their backs. Its current population is about 80,000. It’s expected to reach 100,000 within the next few months.

Each family—comprising mostly women and children—is allocated a plot of land by the government to live on, and they build simple mud huts. It’s hard going. The nearest hospitals are hours away. If a child contracts severe malaria, chances are high that he or she will die in their hut. If a mother has a complicated labor, the risk of death is extremely high. Health services on the ground are minimal and totally overrun. There is very little food. Many of the children suffer from severe malnutrition.

Why this particular project?

ADRA has worked extensively with refugees in this region. Because of the pressure of incoming refugees on an already-strained health system, the need is huge and the potential impact enormous for an intervention like this.

The planned ADRA hospital under phased construction will have 100 inpatient beds, an outpatient unit, an emergency room, and an operating theatre.

Why do you do it?

It’s a privilege for us to be able to reach out to this vulnerable population, to provide them with quality health care and to help them find healing.   

To learn more, go to www.adventisthelp.orgor Facebook at facebook.com/AdventistHelp/.

1 www.adventisthelp.org.
2 adra.org
3 Read more about the brothers at www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story3402-adventist-doctor-describes-tears-and-hope-at-epicenter-of-europe’s-migrant-crisis.

Article used with permission by Adventist World Magazine. Original article can be found here.

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