"We've been able to save lives in Mozambique - that's what is important"

The medical professionals received their award from acting foreign minister Josep Borrell.
The medical professionals received their award from acting foreign minister Josep Borrell. / SUR
  • Local health workers tell of their experience on a humanitarian mission after a cyclone devastated the African country

Two local health professionals have been presented the Civil Merit Medal by the Spanish government for their humanitarian work this year in Mozambique.

Isabel Ric is an experienced nurse with the 061 emergency services in Malaga, and Luz López is a gynaecologist at the Costa del Sol Hospital; both know that the line separating life and death is very fine.

That is why, as Ric explains, she found a lot of satisfaction in the work she carried out in Mozambique, where she provided humanitarian aid after the Idai cyclone hit the African country on 14 March.

"We've saved lives; that's what is truly important," Isabel Ric told SUR last week.

Both women's roles in the developing mission in Dondo, a city situated in the centre of the country, have earned them the prestigious Civil Merit Medal, but what Ric values most about the task is the gratitude that she has received from the people she has helped. "The people are happy there with very little," she explained.

Ric and López, along with other Andalusian emergency staff, travelled to Mozambique after being sent by the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation and Development. They formed part of the Spanish Humanitarian Response Team (START), in turn part of the Empresa Pública de Emergencias Sanitarias (EPES), otherwise known as the 'chalecos rojos' (red vests). Their role is to offer humanitarian crisis response in countries that experience a disaster.

Isabel Ric left Malaga for Mozambique on 29 March. Her professional background in emergencies was what was required to deal with the needs of the population after the devastation of the cyclone.

The aid workers assembled a hospital to assist those in need. The majority suffered injuries, burns and fractures because of the disaster and required immediate medical attention. As the health services in Mozambique are insufficient and scarce, the Spanish medical professionals also treated people with chronic illnesses.

Isabel Ric and her colleagues began providing care on 2 April. They worked for three hours and then relaxed for another three in order to recover from the suffocating heat.

"The ill arrived under the illusion that we would solve their problems. They are very vulnerable and kind people," she recalls. "The surgeons who were on the mission have done all that they can and have operated on inguinal hernias and things that were not caused by the cyclone, but that had to be dealt with," said Ric.

Gynaecologist Luz López was in Mozambique from 11 April until 3 May as part of the START team.

"We are very fortunate with our lives, we have easy access to universal healthcare, we eat well every day and our children have a future. Being there makes you more aware and have more appreciation for what you have - it gives you a dose of reality," explained López.

Two special cases

The experiences acquired in Mozambique will forever remain in the memory of Isabel Ric, but there are two cases that especially stand out. One was a man who was run over by a train and surgeons had to amputate his leg, eventually managing to save his life.

The other was a young woman who suffered a tear during labour. The torn area had to be reconstructed and the woman was given a blood transfusion. Without that medical attention she would have died. Blood transfusions are very rare in Mozambique, a country where it is common for women to give birth six or seven times, which heightens the risk of complications, especially if they have to have a Caesarean section.

"That is another world. The health needs are great. People live in houses built with stones, mud and bamboo. Despite everything, the people of Mozambique are happy; if their house falls down, they rebuild it and move on," Isabel Ric explained. "It's been hard work, but very gratifying," she stated.