Challenges in the health care sector in Burkina Faso

The perspective of Catherine Eklou, nurse and founder of the NGO ”APERSEC”

In June 2018 Laila Berning, CEO at Noor Medical, met with Catherine Eklou in a Café in Freiburg to discuss challenges in the healthcare sector in Burkina Faso. Catherine Eklou was born in Ghana but has been working for several years as a nurse in Germany and Burkina Faso. She founded the NGO “APERSEC” where she engages in awareness raising and educational work, teaches about hygiene and renders first aid. Catherine has worked at “APERSEC” for 17 years and supports about 30 villages in a radius of 50–150 km from Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. She and her team of midwives, nurses and volunteers take care of impoverished people in the villages and evacuate critically ill people to district hospitals or to the university clinic in the capital.

Laila Berning and Catherine Eklou met in Freiburg [photo by Laila Berning]

Catherine pointed out during the interview the many challenges that people face living in rural communities far from large hospitals. Those living in extreme poverty for example are unable to travel to the hospitals on their own and often die due to very simple diseases. She explains how only a few hospitals have the capacity for surgeries and that at small health care clinics in the countryside only nurses and midwives work, where they are tasked with treating infectious diseases such as malaria or diarrhea. Doctors meanwhile can only be found in district hospitals.

Although complex operations seldom take place at small rural health care stations there is still a need for medical instrument sterilization because women give birth at these clinics. Sterilized instruments are not only crucial for general wound treating but also for preventing infectious diseases from spreading between mothers and newborns and other patients. Unfortunately, due to poverty, sterilization devices are rarely available — nor is electricity to power such devices. Often, scissors, tweezers, and other important medical equipment therefore cannot be sterilized and made safe for use. Catherine is convinced that the way instruments are cleaned is not sufficient in a world with infectious diseases such as Aids. She believes that even at the state-owned district hospitals where sterilization devices are available there is still a need for more sterilization devices.

“The countries need help, medical devices, without sterilization nothing is possible in a hospital.” (Catherine Eklou)

At Noor Medical we have the vision to improve humanity’s access to equitable healthcare via the provision of critical sterilization of medical equipment in grid disrupted areas or areas with no electricity at all. Catherine comments that “This is a great project for Africa or for poor countries where development is not so far yet […].” (Catherine Eklou)

Sterilizing medical instruments is not the only challenge in Burkina Faso. According to Catherine, the whole environment is not hygienic. Old, dirty materials are strewn about and the water is often unsanitary. In Catherine’s eyes there are countless unmet needs in the regions she works in. In the context of healthcare, there are not enough employees, devices, materials and beds. She describes how ill people often lay on the floor of state owned hospitals, or on synthetic mattresses without linen. If devices break, it takes a long time until they are either repaired or replaced. She says these conditions are not imaginable for someone who has not witnessed these issues with their own eyes.

“I am a nurse in a hospital in Germany and the situation in Burkina Faso cannot compared with Europe.” (Catherine Eklou)

Catherine wonders why we still mainly hear from the poverty and misery of Africa even after over 60 years of independence. Nevertheless, Catherine remains hopeful and does what she can to empart best-practices for the local population. In addition to her engagement in the healthcare sector transferring medical knowledge from Germany, Catherine works to construct schools to help tackle the >90% illiteracy rate in parts of Burkina Faso and transfer medical knowledge from Germany to Burkina Faso. She also is involved in servicing microcredit loans to women so that they can start their own business, independent from their husbands.

At Noor Medical we aim to follow her advice for good a cooperation through mutual learning processes, cultural awareness, and working to understand the needs, cares, and hopes of those we work with.

We would like to thank Catherine for the insights she provided and are looking forward to continue cooperation with her as we forge ahead with our vision of increasing humanity’s access to equitable healthcare.

Read more about Catherine and her NGO “APERSEC” on the following websites:

We appreciate help along our journey, and are currently crowdfunding our next field testing at a number of health clinics in Chad. Please consider supporting us here.

To learn more about Noor Medical please visit our website: or follow us on facebook, linked in and twitter.

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