Niger, in West Africa, is the poorest country in the world. Health services are grossly insufficient, and what hospitals there are are ill equipped for even the most basic of procedures. Three female doctors came together to help change the plight of Niger with the Humanitarian Aid Association (IHH). Nükhet Teker, Nurşen Öncel and Yıldız Ekmekçi spent 10 days in the country and conducted operations to save or restore the eyesight of 165 people during their visits. They also made over 600 diagnoses. These doctors, participating for the first time in such volunteer work, think that more doctors need to be recruited for such social projects and that similar work should be promoted.
The adventure of the three doctors, who work in İstanbul, Ankara and Konya, began with the IHH’s project, which includes providing cataract operations to 100,000 people with the slogan of “If you see, they would see,” initiated by Teker. With the support of her two friends, Teker traveled to Niger.
“We went to Niamey, the capital of Niger, after a 12-hour flight. It is not like a capital city; it is like a town enlarged a hundred or a thousand times. We transferred to Tisava, 16 hours away by car, where we carried out the surgery,” Teker says, recalling her initial observations about the country. They carried all equipment for the surgery with them. In Tisava there was a hospital with two laboratories, built by the Japanese. However it is not in operation since there is no doctor in residence. Throughout the 10 days, patients waited in the garden; they even slept on the sand. In order to provide sight to the maximum number of people, most people had only one eye operated on.
Kimse yok mu? (Is anybody there), Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) and IHH are major Turkish humanitarian help foundations that organize campaigns for those who live in areas where there is misery, poverty and no education and health services, while Doctors Worldwide has active support from Turkey. Teker, Öncel and Ekmekçi went to Niger and performed cataract surgery between June 21 and July 2. However, Niger is not the only suffering nation; there are many people and many regions that need to be helped in terms of health services.
There are many things to do for Africa
Nükhet Teker - Avienna Hospital: I heard some news about Niger. However when I went there, I saw that to have an opinion and a real understanding about it, it is necessary to go see it. While I was traveling there, it was said that the desert conditions are equal to war conditions. You couldn’t understand it without seeing it. There is misery, deprivation and heat. If I can find an opportunity to go there again, I will. People living there need water, food, basic health services and most importantly education. The help that has been done in Africa is just a drop in the ocean. There are many more things to do for the Africans.
Joining social projects is important
Nurşen Öncel - Konya Foundation Hospital: We are happy even if we contributed very little. We weren’t worried about our security or other issues when we went. Doctors Worldwide had gone there before. Of course I will go again. In my annual holidays, I would like to arrange a visit that country again. It was the first, but won’t be the last. Sometimes being a woman creates difficulties, however it is necessary to take part in such social responsibility projects. Being a woman is not a barrier to participating in those projects.
Let more people see
Yıldız Ekmekçi - Ankara Metropolitan Municipality Hospital: Seeing the people who live in hunger and poverty affected me very much. There are such people in Turkey, however they are not at that level. They have only one dress. We are performing surgery. They were lying on the sand in the gardens of the hospital. They were in very bad, very poor conditions. They know white people only from missionary works. They were surprised when seeing us. We were not Christian or missionaries, we were Muslim like them. We were white. The most important topic is health and education. They are in need. We only performed surgery on one eye of each person, so as to reach more patients.