CAR: The medicine woman

Riding, traveling, cycling: sporty Austrian pharmacist Irene Breitschopf has many hobbies. So it’s no surprise that she always brings a yoga mat with her wherever she goes. In her first blog post, written during her first assignment with MSF in Central African Republic (CAR), she overcomes culture shock and steps into her role as pharmacy manager.

Bonjour à tous!
I have been in Central African Republic (CAR) for four weeks now and have already settled in quite well.
When I first got here, I had a little culture shock: the country is really one of the poorest in the world.
Currently I'm in MSF's coordination office in Bangui (CAR's capital), but was immediately sent to Berbérati (CAR's second-largest city) during my first week to visit our hospital project to get to know how everything works.
It makes sense for new staff to see MSF's medical and operational work firsthand, and gain a better understanding of the processes here.


In our Berbérati hospital we provide pediatric care, neonatology, a ward for malnourished children and an ambulance service.
We also work in three rural health centres, with a focus on mother-child health (where the midwives basically run the places!).
It's a really valuable experience for me to get to know everything here, and especially to see the small patients.
Berbérati is the second largest "city" in the country, but it looks like a village.
The MSF hospital in Berbérati, CAR

The MSF hospital in Berbérati, CAR. Photo: Irene Breitschopf/MSF.

The standard of living is very, very low, and so are the levels of hygiene and education.
Everything is full of red earth and sand dust.
The only paved road is the runway of the airport, which is tiny.
However, I feel healthy and have quickly become accustomed to the 38°C heat, the extremely high humidity and thousands of mosquitoes buzzing around in the evening.
I have to say, I'm getting used to the latrines, the "bucket shower", and no dairy products ... but I really appreciated the occasional beer at the end of the day :-).

Bon courage

Both teams in Bangui and Berbérati are really nice! 
In the Berbérati project, we have about 15 international members of staff, in Bangui about ten.

I feel healthy and have quickly become accustomed to the 38°C heat, the extremely high humidity and thousands of mosquitoes buzzing around in the evening.

There are many different nationalities: we have people from Congo, French Switzerland, France, Australia, Ivory Coast, Colombia, Brazil, Canada, Niger, Madagascar ... 
It is still hard for me to speak French, but all my  French-speaking colleagues say "bon courage"  to me - that everything will be OK. 

My job in CAR

You're surely asking yourself now: What exactly does this woman do? 
Let me explain.
My role is pharmacy manager at our coordination office in Bangui, where we are responsible for the supply, storage and management of various drugs we use during our medical operations.
Last week we made an international order for supplies at our logistics centre in Bordeaux (France) for our project in CAR.
We can make orders twice a year, with deliveries taking about five months.
Irene with the MSF pharmacy team in CAR

Irene with the MSF pharmacy team in CAR. Photo: Irene Breitschopf/MSF.

My main task is to maintain control of all the pharmacies in our CAR project: that no medication or materials run out, but also that we aren't overstocking, that nothing goes bad, and that the storage conditions are optimal among other things.
It's also important for me to compare what is prescribed to patients with how often these are prescribed, and synchronise this with orders made and the number of patients.
It is also my job to train the staff, and to draw up a report every month.
Every day, there is always new things added to the project: In Bangui, for example, I keep an eye on a small pharmacy in a clinic.
As you can see, working here is a real challenge - but I'm confident I will learn a lot ;-).