AFRICA/MADAGASCAR - “I followed my conscience which impelled me alleviate the suffering I saw”: testimony of medical volunteer in Africa

Rome (Agenzia Fides) - “There can be no limit to understanding the causes of poverty in Africa, action is needed,” Fides was told by Dr Luigi Bellini, founder of the “Le Samaritain” diagnostic medical centre in Antseranana, northern Madagascar.
Dr Bellini explains what prompted him to leave Italy to devote himself to this initiative: “In 1998 I had travelled to Madagascar for scientific research, organized by the University of Naples. Having to walk around country Madagascar, I discovered the social reality of the Country, defined by an archaeologist friend as the Iron Age. I was deeply impacted by the mark left on me by the people, the climate, with the locusts of biblical memory that wiped out 75% of the rice harvest in the south. In short, an overwhelming experience, so on my return to Italy I began to reflect on what I saw and experienced.”
“I thus felt the need to do something, which I call an impulse of conscience,” continues Dr Bellini. “In a journey that lasted a few years I progressively abandoned my activities in Italy, my research work at the University and collaboration with the European Space Agency for the control of astronauts. With the savings collected over a lifetime, in agreement with my children, I decided to create a diagnostic center in Madagascar. The center, 3,000 sq. meters, began activity in 2007. It is staffed by 22 doctors and Malagasy technicians, who receive a regular salary, trained both in Madagascar and at Italian universities and hospitals.”
“The complex,” explains the researcher, “offers completely free of charge assistance to 35% of patients and seek to increase this number every year. Patients being charged fees by Western standards is absolutely ridiculous. But the diagnostic center is not enough. We are therefore building the first maternity and surgical clinic in the north of Madagascar. We began construction in 2009, thanks also to a significant contribution by the Italian Episcopal Conference.”
Dr Bellini describes the situation in Madagascar: “following the political crisis, the Country's gross domestic product (one of the lowest in the world) fell 6%. The average income per capita is 256 euros per year, or about 20 euros per month. The infant mortality rate is 17 per 1,000 and in delivery it is 5 per 1,000. These values are very high. 11% of the population is suffering from tuberculosis and malaria affects 25% of the population. It would be sufficient to provide the population with mosquito nets to reduce malaria by 50%. Then there are all kinds of parasitic diseases: 38% of the population is afflicted with one or more types of these diseases. But the main disease is hunger: 63% of the population is underweight.”
We asked Dr Bellini his impressions on the role of the Church given this situation. “I can freely testify as a member of the laity, that from a social perspective in Africa, nothing else exists beyond the Church,” confirms the doctor. “Anyone who wants to act for the good of the local people, if they are not connected with the Church, can not do anything. The large NGOs are often tools for important politicians and do not affect the social evolution of African countries.” (LM) (Agenzia Fides 20/1/2011)

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