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Herakles Farms (SG-SOC) Health Initiative Saves Premature Baby — Baby Ngoe was not yet born when SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SG-SOC further referred to by its parent company, “Herakles Farms”), conceived of and decided in 2011 to sponsor Free Medical Assistance to Rural Communities (MARC) in parts of Southwest Cameroon.  

Working together with WeCCare Foundation (WeCCare), a local medical non-profit dedicated to improving healthcare in Cameroon, Herakles Farms has since been expanding health services in its project area.

Since March 2012, WeCCare has provided free consultations, medications and medical procedures in the Nguti, Mundemba and Toko Sub-Divisions, sponsored by Herakles Farms.
Their team of doctors and medical practitioners have seen and treated more than 2.500 workers and non-employee villagers suffering from a wide range of diseases and health care problems, but it is the story of a 1.70 kg baby named Ngoe that best exemplifies the driving force behind Herakles Farms’ commitment to improving lives through health care. Baby Ngoe and his sister were pre-term twins born in enclaved Lipenja II, about 50 km from Mundemba, the chief town of Ndian Division in Southwest Cameroon.

Their parents are subsistence farmers, and the babies’ father, Adolph Itere Ngbang, was at first hesitant to have his family receive care supported by Herakles Farms. He was opposed to the company’s land acquisition in the area, although it was consensually agreed upon by the village. Some local people had been apprehensive about new investment in the region, due to past bitter experiences with previous investors who did not uphold their promises.

Still, Sylvie Ebongo, the twins’ 27 year-old mother, rushed to WeCCare team leader, Dr. Sammy Oben, with her sick three-week old daughter, but she arrived after the WeCCare medical team had packed up to leave Lipenja I Batanga. She had come from Lipenja II, 10 km through a bush track, with a baby whose most visible ailment was reddish diaper rashes, or jeti-jeti in the local parlance.

Dr. Oben said he quickly recognised the baby was frail, emaciated and severely malnourished, among other health issues. The mother said her twins were born at home due to lack of the means to pay for maternity care and had been fed only breast milk.  Unlike in her three previous births, her breasts were not producing sufficient milk for the premature twins. She was not even aware she was carrying two babies prior to the birth and had no access to basic prenatal care.

“She had the look of death,” Dr. Oben said of the dying baby girl. Dr. Oben, a plastic and general surgeon, also works as a general practitioner, as is the case in much of resource poor sub-Saharan Africa. Though all staff, equipment and material had been moved to another village several kilometers away and was ready for departure, Dr. Oben knew he had to help the baby in its life-threatening situation. “I was moved by the look of despair on her face,” he said of the baby’s mother. “She had that look of last hope.”

Dr. Oben and Lovert Mbange, Herakles Farms’ Local Community Development Officer, drove 10 km on a rugged road to their waiting convoy to collect medication for the frail baby. Two days later, when Dr. Oben met Herakles Farms Vice President, Carmine Farnan, and discussed the plight of the baby, Mr. Farnan instructed that the dying baby and her twin brother be evacuated immediately.

When Mr. Mbange returned to Lipenja II to rescue the dying baby and her twin, he realised he had arrived one day too late. Tragically, the baby girl had died the previous night after three days of illness. “Tears rolled down my eyes,” said Mr. Mbange. “The emotion that gripped me that moment, I only remember having that kind of feeling when my mother died.”

He had established a personal bond with the baby when her mother first brought her for help and Mbange immediately arranged for the surviving twin, Itere “Baby” Ngoe, and his mother to be transferred to the care of WeCCare Foundation in Yaounde for treatment. At the WeCCare centre in Yaounde, Baby Ngoe began to thrive under observation by Dr. Oben and paediatrician Dr. Evelyn Mah. 

Baby Ngoe was 1.70 kg and 47cm long when he arrived in Yaounde aged three weeks. A measurement at eight weeks old showed that he was 2.70kg and 51cm long. Dr. Mah, who also works at the Yaounde Gyneco-Obstetric (Mother and Child Hospital), says
20 percent of births at the hospital are pre-term and 10 percent of the pre-term cases die. At the hospital, the country’s best, the surviving 90 percent of pre-term babies depend on an incubator.

This was not the case for Baby Ngoe, delivered by traditional birth attendants in a remote village with no neonatal care and no sophisticated medical facilities like incubators. “Nutrition is vital for the baby’s continued growth,” said Dr. Mah. At the WeCCare centre in Yaounde, the baby was on a constant meal of high-nutrient bottled food eight times a day, in addition to breast milk, which increased in volume as the quality of his mother’s feeding improved at the centre.

Although his twin sister tragically died, the good news from Yaounde about Baby Ngoe brought an outburst of joy in Lipenja II. When a team from Herakles Farms visited Baby Ngoe’s Lipenja II home on June 16 with news of the baby’s welfare, neighbors crowded the thatch roofed mud hut to share in the good news. There was also visible excitement among Baby Ngoe’s older siblings – Larise Misori, 9, Futuris Njorwa, 5, and Luencia Njosanga, 3. 

While the village’s men attended a weekly village meeting, its women converged at the home of Baby Ngoe and danced around his father, singing in the local Batanga language: “SG-SOC baroko nwenyo” (SG-SOC has come with joy).

Baby Ngoe arrived at the WeCCare Foundation centre in Yaounde on May 10, 2012. He was happily reunited with his father on August 4, 2012. After spending nearly three months receiving care in Yaounde, he weighed 4.32 kg and was up-to-date on his vaccinations. 

Because Herkales Farm was so moved by its role in saving the life of Baby Ngoe, the company has committed to helping improve in his future. Baby Ngoe has been selected as the first recipient of the Dr. Isidore Timti Memorial Scholarship Fund, and Herakles Farms has committed to fund Ngoe’s schooling from Class 1 up to a university degree.

Herakles Farms has also committed to continuing its health care work with WeCCare in the hope that more people can benefit from the life saving work of Dr. Oben and his team. 

First published in The Post print edition no 01371

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