By Alison Ramsey
IAHPC Newsletter Editor
Two events decided Koffi Tengue’s path in life. When he was seven years old, a child bitten by a snake died while the child’s father dashed home to get money for treatment, which the health center refused to provide before payment; and when he was a first-year med student, he watched his mother die of cancer—“an unforgivable disease.”
In response, in 1997 he joined with others to found Organisation Jeunesse pour le Développement Communautaire (Youth Organization for Community Development), or ORJEDEC, in Kouvé, his village in Togo.
ORJEDEC has matured to become an effective palliative care provider for children and adults, trainer of health care professionals and caregivers, and advocate locally, nationally, and internationally. Its achievements as a non-governmental organization have been nurtured through partnerships and support from—among others—Togo’s Ministry of Health, its National Association of Nurses, Hospice Africa Uganda, the African Palliative Care Association, and the IAHPC.
ORJEDEC by the numbers
Although ORJEDEC is based in Kouvé, a region of 25,000 people, its national partnerships translate into a country-wide influence to benefit 8.2 million citizens.
Its three key activities are: promotion of palliative care, prevention of serious diseases (such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, etc.), and nutrition and counselling.
Its three palliative care experts (trained by Hospice Africa Uganda), two doctors, 14 nurses, a mental health specialist, a psychologist, two pastors, a sociologist, and 41 community-based volunteers cover a lot of ground. They meet and counsel patients at seven palliative care centers that cover the two largest regions of Togo as well as doing home care. They are working with the national association of nurses to provide services to out-of-area residents: in the meantime, they connect to other regions using WhatsApp, Facebook, and by phone.
ORJEDEC’s current mandate includes treating those with chronic and progressive diseases, as well as vulnerable patients suffering from COVID-19, in their homes and at private and public health care institutions.
It joined with SOS Soins Palliatifs in Togo in an ongoing effort to advocate for improved health insurance to help those with serious pathologies and limited prognosis, especially the neglected, frail elders, and the most financially fragile residents.
ORJEDEC’s plans include advocating for improved availability of morphine, integrating palliative care into educational curricula, and establishing a hospice serving West Africa. Another focus is to continue training caregivers in rural areas. The need, says, Dr. Tengue, is real and immediate; with a population of more than 7 million, Togo has 32,200 cases of cancer and HIV/AIDS.
Most important, however, is that “we do everything we can, with love, because a job well done is always satisfying.”