A Powerful Proven Healthcare Model
“As a means of caring for those who were ill, St. Basil of Caesarea founded the first hospital (c. 369). Christian hospitals grew apace, spreading throughout both the East and the West. By the mid-1500s there were 37,000 Benedictine monasteries alone that cared for the sick. It was not until four centuries after St. Basil’s hospital that Arab Muslims began to build hospitals.”
– C. Ben Mitchell, The Christian Origins of Hospitals,” Biblemesh.com
Christian hospitals exist in Africa today because Jesus Christ healed the sick and commanded His disciples to follow His example. For more than 100 years, missionaries have been bringing the gospel message to Africa, and in the process, these messengers established churches, built schools, and where medical services were lacking, built clinics and hospitals.
Bongolo Hospital was one such hospital, and over the years it created a much loved community where medical professionals serve patients with excellence and love – and never for a profit. Today, patients are asked to pay modest fees for the medical services provided. When patients cannot pay, the hospital offers an exchange of services for work. Many times, Christian hospitals must simply trust God to provide for those who are in desperate need.
Today, many of Africa’s Christian hospitals are leading the way among nonprofits because of the sacrifices Christian medical professionals are making. Missionaries are financially supported by churches from their home countries, and their service in hospitals is quite literally priceless.
Eventually, however, even the most dedicated missionaries will retire. If he or she is not replaced by another missionary, the hospital must find an African medical professional and pay his or her salary.
In the case of Bongolo Hospital, because of its training programs in nursing, midwifery, anesthesia, ophthalmology, family medicine, and surgery, it still has more missionary doctors on staff than African doctors. But, even that ratio will likely change within the next decade.
Christian hospitals in Africa have other significant challenges as well, some of which require its physicians and administrators to spend significant time and energy lobbying in government offices.
The need to lobby
Hospital administrators, hospital accountants, and doctors often spend long days in government offices, meeting with officials, requesting permissions, asking for exemptions, defending their qualifications or licensing, and a host of other tedious interactions, all of which take them away from patient care. Bongolo missionary doctors can spend weeks in Gabon’s capital city waiting for a visa renewal.
Delayed reimbursement is common for services rendered to patients with government health insurance. In some cases, private hospitals are obliged to treat patients with government health insurance, even as reimbursements decline and costs rise.
Medicine orders and equipment
Getting medicine orders and equipment orders through customs and out of port is always a challenge. Port operations suffer from a culture of dishonesty, disorganization, and a lack of sympathy for hospitals that have connections to western countries.
Delivering healthcare to growing populations
Well-managed Christian hospitals are among the best hospitals in Africa, and charge fees approximately half the cost of more “elite” private hospitals.
Unrelenting demands on a hospital’s medical staff is exhausting and can result in staff burn-out. All too often, however, experienced nurses, lab techs, and other professionals are lured away by private or government hospitals promising higher wages.
This theological and ecclesiastical influence manifestly shaped the ethics of medicine, but it even indirectly affected its science since, as missionaries evangelized the people of Western and Northern Europe, the Church found itself in a constant battle against the use of magic and superstition in the work of healing.
It championed rational medicine, along with prayer…”
– Albert Jonson, M.D., University of Washington