Swiss Team performs 1000th surgical intervention in Okpoga

Mission Report Swiss Surgical Team, Okpoga, Nigeria, February 2014

In February 2014, I had the opportunity to join the Swiss Surgical Teams (SST) on a Mission to the St.Mary's Hospital in Okpoga, Nigeria. The team included four surgeons and a scrub nurse (Peter Nussbaumer, Corinne Beerle, Lisa Högger, Christine Köchli and Sebastian Reich). It was quite an experience because it was the first time I visited Africa. Therefore the landscape, the kindness and gratitude of the people and the smell of coal in the air were overwhelming


After an icy take off in Zurich (minus 2.5 °C) we landed in Abuja, where the thermometer indicated 36 °C. Thereafter we went to the Swiss ambassador to have dinner and I got a first impression of the landscape, which was astonishingly green, especially because I was told, that February is the driest month of the whole year.The next morning we continued our journay by minibus. On the raod we passed cities, marketplaces, acttle and landscapes with afew huts, some made of stone some made of clay. Although the streets were quite well with only a few potholes, the traffic was exciting, because everyone was using the road on the same time, namely cars, trucks, pedestrians, motorcycles and animals. Due to a continuous use of their horns and good brakes they cope the vast amount of traffic very well. After a journey of eight hours we reached our final destination where we were warmly welcomed by the staff of St. Mary's hospital with singing and dancing until dusk.

Because of the dusk we decided to bring our luggage to our accommodations and unload our boxes with working stuff the next morning. Curious and not knowing what to expect we went to our home for the next two weeks. What a surprise! Everyone had his own room with a bed and a mosquito-net. But not only our bedrooms were luxurious; we had a shower, a toilet and a living room too. The next morning we started our work by setting up the operating theatre and screening patients.


Following confirmation of the diagnosis of a hernia or hydrocele they went to pay the fee for the operation. Then they lined up in front of the theatre where they awaited patiently their turn. Inside the theatre one hernia after the other was treated by mesh repair with mosquito-net. Three teams worked untiringly, the operating table being vacant just long enough to be cleaned again. Our scrub nurse (Sebastian Reich) did an excellent job. He usually was first in and last out every day. In case of emergencies, like caesareans and laparotomies, we did up to 23 operations in one day. Regarding the fact that they usually do only one operation a day, every single person did a great job.


In the end of the first week we already performed over 100  operations including the 1000th surgical intervention of the SST in Nigeria. The second week the two staff operated successfully hernias and hydroceles on their own. The evenings were spent admiring the full moon and the stars, enjoying a cold beer or a Maltina (a local sweet malty brew). Once again the hospitality of the Reverend Mother and her team was generous. They went out of their way to make our stay relaxed and convenient. After 140 patients and over 170 operations our time in Nigeria ended and the team of the St. Mary's organized a big farewell party. Altogether the team spent an amazing, extraordinary and unforgettable time at St. Mary's Hospital, and we thank everyone involved for their help and support.


Christine Kochli