Catholic Hospital Serving the Common Good

Sr. Xavaria, is a force to be reckoned with! an astute Franciscan sister with a bubbly personality and an infectious laugh. She is Matron of one of the largest hospitals in North Western Cameroon.

Under her leadership, the team of Franciscan sisters and committed staff have provided quality health care at an affordable cost for the people of Njinikom and the surrounding areas.

The hospital named after St. Martin de Porres, who was renowned for his charitable work with the poor and the sick was an ideal Saint to lead the Franciscan sisters in their outreach to the poor and marginalised in the community. It is for this reason that they have developed the inspiring mission statement:

To see and serve Christ in all by spending time to care

A statement so true to life, that when I visited this well run and established hospital I began to appreciate more the real meaning of those words. ‘Spending time to care’ through seeing Christ in others and serving Christ in everything that we do for the common good.

The staff are well trained and continuous education is something Sr. Xavaria and the team promote meticulously; to respect all, irrespective of their political, religious, social or cultural background.
The Hospital has a bed capacity of 150, and it is composed of the following departments: Surgical ward, Medical ward, Maternity, Theatre, Pharmaceutical production unit, Dentistry, Laboratory, Out Patient Department, Internet Technology Centre, Canteen, Laundry, Primary Health Care Unit, Electrical and Plumbing Unit, Security, X-ray department, Eye department and Project Hope.

Walking through the hospital thoughts of the principle of the common good came to mind:

Every member of the community has a duty to the common good in order that the rights of others can be satisfied and their freedoms respected.”
The Common Good, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (1996)

It was at St. Martin de Porres that I met Katoucha, a member of the Fulani tribe, she told me how two years ago she was very concerned when her daughter became sick while being pregnant with her first child. Her local chief who was friendly with the Franciscan sisters advised Katoucha to take her daughter to the hospital, he tried to reassure her that she would be looked after there.

At first Katoucha was a bit apprehensive. The Fulani people are nomads, spread across western Africa, mainly cattle herders, they keep themselves to themselves, live simply and in complete harmony with the land. Only now are they increasingly marrying into other ethnic groups. The women are usually tall and thin, very well turned out with distinctive features clothed in modest colourful garments. Their religion is Muslim. So the thought of going to a Catholic hospital, miles away from her village was a daunting experience.

Over the weeks her daughter became very unwell and Katoucha was so worried not only for her daughter but also for her impending grandchild so she took the advice of her chief and walked the 12 miles from her village to Njinikom hospital. She told me how she was warmly greeted by the staff and given some refreshments after her long journey.

Her daughter was too sick to travel, so the sisters sent out a doctor in their 4×4 vehicle to transport Katoucha’s daughter to the hospital. Once she arrived she was stretchered to the maternity ward and put on a drip, she was very weak. After medical tests, it transpired that her daughter was diagnosed with HIV, she was in shock and her immediate concern was for her child.

Katoucha’s family were immediately registered on the Project Hope program and it has brought them a positive outlook for their future. The project was initially set up by the sisters in 2000 in response to the increasing spread and devastating effects of HIV/AIDS epidemic in the north-west region of Cameroon.

The main focus of Project Hope is on HIV/AIDS sensitisation, awareness raising, prevention of mother-to-child transmission and anti-retroviral treatment. Still, nearly 17 per cent of the local population is infected with AIDS, especially pregnant women like Katoucha’s daughter and the under 20 age group.

Also, as a response to the ever increasing rate of HIV and AIDS (with 40% of patients in the medical ward being HIV infected) the main goal was “to strengthen the capacity of the communities to enable them address and cope with the Pandemic”. This is being achieved by offering Prevention, Treatment and Care and Support services to the infected and affected with special interest on pregnant women, children, youth and orphans.
The HIV epidemic has had a heavy impact especially in women in sub-Saharan Africa, African women account for three-quarters of HIV infections worldwide. A recent United Nations report on HIV/AIDS stated that for every 10 men who become infected in Africa, HIV infects 13 women.
Many Fulani tribal people like Katoucha and her family now come to the hospital. Sr. Sheila McElroy, the Archdiocesan Health Coordinator commented that

I believe respecting each others religion goes a long way in accepting the person, we have a good relationship with Fulani people as a whole, in many of our hospitals we also provide a room where Muslims may pray and I believe that is another way of showing respect for the individual.”

Katoucha and her grandson

Katoucha’s family have gone through a voluntary counselling programme including guidance on infant feeding. Her daughter is one of the 623 patients receiving monthly anti-retroviral therapy. She give birth to a healthy boy several months later and through the education and counselling that the Project Hope programme has offered this has significantly improved her son’s chances of surviving while remaining HIV uninfected.

In the implementation of the program, Project Hope has been awarded best practices in Cameroon and 3rd best practice in Africa. They are also a pilot site for Early infant Diagnosis. The Project Hope team also supports local health centres offering community based health programs which support the vulnerable local population including provision of clean portable water, hygiene and sanitation education, other aspects of disease prevention and health promotion. This work has brought hope, joy and life to whose most vulnerable in that part of Cameroon.

Sr. Xavaria comments “There is a beautiful view of the mountains located around the hospital, the surroundings are serene, we offer a holistic care in a prayerful environment which makes it comfortable for patients. All of this makes us special, we do our best and leave the rest to God.”


St. Martin de Porres, Njinikom is one of the many Catholic hospitals that serves communities in the developing world. Were you aware that the Catholic Church manages 26 percent of health care facilities in the world?

The Church has “117,000 health care facilities, including hospitals, clinics, orphanages,” as well as “18,000 pharmacies and 512 centres” for the care of those with leprosy.

Source: Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers Feb 2010

Catherine Waters-Clark, The Portsmouth Bamenda Committee

Photo 1 : Sr. Xavaria [Photo credit: Catherine Waters-Clark]

Photo 2: Katoucha, Fulani grandmother and her grandson [Photo credit: Catherine Waters-Clark]