Maria Cheng Nurse
Year of joining MSF:2020
Number of Missions:1
Mission Countries:Central African Republic

Stories from
our field workers

‘Teach a man to fish’ – training healthcare assistants
Instead of providing direct care myself, I think what I have done has empowered my local colleagues. I look forward to seeing their progress if I could go back to The Central African Republic one day.

The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest countries in the world. Incessant civil wars have resulted in massive displacement and poor healthcare systems. Maria Cheng Ngai Yan is a nurse who worked for six months on an MSF operation in CAR in 2020. She recalled there was an eight-year-old girl who walked every day for two hours to the hospital, just to get an insulin injection. 

“The little girl was diagnosed with diabetes and needed daily insulin injections. She lived in a remote area with no electricity supply. In her community, there was no refrigerator that could store insulin, so she had no option but to walk for 2 hours every day to reach us,” Maria said. That was just one small example of the problems in the country. There are not enough healthcare professionals and they often lack formal training. “In the hospital where I worked,” explains Maria, “a ward consisted of around 60 patients, but there were often only one or two registered nurses. The remaining staff were health assistants who had only been trained for 6 months.” 

Therefore Maria was not only responsible for providing care to patients, but also training the healthcare assistants to improve the overall quality of medical care.

“MSF could not stay forever. As we increased their capacity and knowledge, they could pass them on and be empowered to serve their own community.”

For example, the healthcare assistants might not have enough knowledge and experience to treat patients who were in a critical condition. So Maria designed some situational questions for them to practice teamwork and problem solving. This kind of interactive learning was well-received among her local colleagues.

“They were engaged in the training process, and expressing their own thoughts made all of them feel involved and recognized. At the beginning, some colleagues were not really engaged in the training, but later they kept asking me when the next training would take place. I am glad that they found what we provided useful.”

Maria sums up her contribution in this way: “I think what I have done has empowered my local colleagues. I look forward to seeing their progress if I could go back to The Central African Republic one day.”  


Places where MSF works

Central African Republic
Years of intense violence in Central African Republic (CAR) have resulted in thousands being killed or wounded and millions being displaced, severely restricting access to medical care, food, water and shelter. MSF first began work in CAR in 1997. Our teams run projects for local and displaced communities providing primary and emergency care, maternal and paediatric services, trauma surgery and treatment for malaria, HIV and tuberculosis. In 2019, we conducted 967,000 outpatient consultations.
Our projects in Cambodia are currently focused on tackling hepatitis C and malaria. We launched a hepatitis C programme in May 2016, offering the first free treatment for the blood-borne virus in the country. In 2019, we helped 4,520 people start their hepatitis C treatment.
The country has been going through a continuing economic crisis, with very little funds available for public expenditure and social services. As a result, the health sector faces numerous challenges. We run projects in partnership with the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), providing treatment for HIV, tuberculosis (TB), non-communicable diseases and mental health issues. In 2019, we vaccinated 13,000 girls aged 10 to 15 years against human papillomavirus.