A Paediatrician in Guinea-Bissau: What you leave behind

Mårten, a paediatrician from Sweden, has recently finished his first posting with MSF / Doctors Without Borders in Guinea-Bissau, a small country on the west coast of Africa. Today he blogs about coming home, and the things you leave behind…

The fog lies heavy and gray over the city and it is autumn in Gothenburg.

My time in Bafatá has ended and I have left one bubble and gone into another. I am surprisingly adapting myself to everyday life and reality here at home.

Even though I always had trouble reconciling myself to the darkness that penetrates the frosty north in autumn, it is good to be back. Especially to see everyone I hold dear again.

But what is it I have left behind and what do I miss from Guinea-Bissau?

Photo shows a member of the Bissau-Guinean staff examining a child

Jose-Carlos, one of the local staff, examines a patient. Photo: Mårten Larsson / MSF.

In addition to the bright, warm evenings, it's the colleagues in the team I worked so tightly and intensely with for half a year that I will miss.

It’s the other international field workers who, like myself, committed themselves to an unknown adventure and united in this small country on the west coast of Africa to solve problems and run this project together.

But perhaps most of all I miss all the Bissau-Guinean colleagues I worked with so closely and spent so much time with in Bafatá. All the difficult decisions we took and all the joy we saw and shared in the hospital when children’s health improved. It is these national colleagues who account for most of the work done in our projects and, above all, for continuity when international workers come and go, often several times a year. Without the local staff, the projects could never have been implemented. It is working with them, each bringing our different knowledge and expertise, that was my greatest asset in Bafatá, and the motivation I will carry with me here at home.

Image shows Marten and some colleagues

The medical team at the hospital in Bafatá. Photo: Mårten Larsson / MSF.

In a country with extremely limited public health infrastructure, in which MSF is supporting a significant part of the health system, the developing skills of local healthcare professionals taking place in MSF's projects is perhaps our most important contribution to better health here.

MSF is a humanitarian organization that takes action where the needs are greatest and this can change quickly, so the presence of MSF in any area is not forever. On the day MSF leaves Guinea-Bissau, whenever that will be, there will be a number of highly competent nurses and doctors ready to continue working under the full responsibility of the state. Then one can only hope that politicians, both domestic and foreign, also take on their responsibility to ensure that trained health professionals are able to keep working.